Student: Scrapped RFID 'Huge Weight off Shoulders'

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One of the nation's largest school districts, Northside Independent in San Antonio, shut down a controversial program this summer that tracked students using radio frequency technology.

Sixteen-year-old sophomore Andrea Hernandez was its chief opponent. CBN News spoke with Hernandez recently about her battle and what she's learned.

"It's kind of like a dream," Hernandez said. "You hoped it would happened but you never thought it would and when it did you're just like 'awesome.'"

More than 101,000 students are enrolled at Northside for the 2013-14 school year. At the start of the 2012-13 school year, the district piloted an RFID (radio frequency identification) program at two schools: Anson Jones Middle School and John Jay High School.

At the time, Hernandez was a student at the high school's science and engineering academy. She objected to the new mandatory student ID badge, which the two schools required students to wear at all times during the school day.

Inside the badges, a tracking device utilized tiny batteries to emit radio waves that allowed the schools to determine students' exact location.

Northside spokesman Pascual Gonzalez told CBN News last fall, "It's not just knowing a schedule for a student which may or may not hold true for that day. It's actually knowing physically where that child is."

Gonzalez said the RFID badges would allow the schools to keep kids safer and boost state funding. The district hoped to count more students for attendance. State funding in Texas is influenced by the number of students in class every day.

For Hernandez, however, the badge meant a violation of her faith, lining up with what she read in the book of Revelation about the mark of the beast.

"You couldn't be in the school without having it and you couldn't buy lunch, vote for Homecoming," she said. "You couldn't do all the stuff that a normal student would do -- unless you had the tracking chip. Just like in the Bible -- you can't buy, sell or trade unless you have the mark."

Hernandez paid a high price for her protest. In January 2013, the John Jay academy dropped her from its rolls.

"It was hard in the sense that I had made so many good connections and I was so used to the school," Hernandez said. "That was my school, the school I planned on graduating from."

However, over the summer, the district reversed course and dropped the RFID program.

Gonzalez says money proved to be the deciding factor. Even with the RFID program in place, attendance bumped up by less than 1 percent, causing Northside to scrap its quarter-million dollar program.

Privacy advocates across the country hope that Northside's move will slow down the movement to put RFID technology in schools across the country. Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Privacy Information Center believe that RFID chips in schools invade children's privacy and civil liberties, especially when there's no opt out option.

It's also good news for Hernandez, who is back at John Jay and ready to enjoy her school year.

"RFID being gone is a huge weight lifted off my shoulders," she said. "It's good to go back and just be a student. It's good to not have to worry about tracking and all this radiation floating around."

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Heather Sells

Heather Sells

CBN News Reporter

Heather Sells enjoys reporting on a variety of issues for CBN News. Some of her recent stories have focused on religious liberties, technology, AIDS, overseas missions, domestic trafficking, and politics.  Follow Heather on Twitter @SellsHeather and "like" her at Facebook.com/HeatherSellsCBNNews.