Santa Fe:City uses radio frequency tracking badges for students

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by Hayley Kappes / The Daily News

khou.com

Posted on October 18, 2010 at 11:34 AM

SANTA FE — Secondary students in the Santa Fe district are required to wear badges on campus that track their whereabouts using radio frequency identification technology.

School officials issued the badges this fall to ensure student safety and achieve more accurate attendance reporting.

Attendance rates haven’t been an issue in the district, but a reliable reporting system might allow Santa Fe to recover more state money from average daily attendance funding, district spokeswoman Patti Hanssard said. The monitoring system only tracks students on campus.

The district sought the badges after seeing a presentation from Spring Independent School District, which is north of Houston.

Since issuing the tracking badges in 2008, Spring has received a $194,000 increase in attendance funding, Hanssard said.

It’s too early to tell how much money Santa Fe will recover from using the badges, Hanssard said.

Jody Marabella, whose daughter is a senior at Santa Fe, said some parents unreasonably have argued the badges are an invasion of privacy.

"It’s really not as bad as everyone makes it out to be," Marabella said. "I think people are making a mountain out of a mole hill. If the kids are where they’re supposed to be, what’s the issue?"

The district requires students buy a replacement badge if the one issued gets lost, which Marabella said she disagrees with. The badges cost $5 to replace, she said.

No regulations prohibit school districts from using the technology, Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Suzanna Marchman said.

"We’ve just started finding out about this technology," Marchman said. "We’re just going to look at this more closely as more school districts begin to use these badges."

The radio frequency tracking badges come with security risks, Jose Medina, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said.

"Just doing a Google search, there are plenty of instructions about how to crack this RFID technology," Medina said. "It’s well within the realm of possibility that someone could misuse this technology."

The monitoring system is secure, and no student information is available through the technology, Hanssard said.

Hanssard declined to comment on the recourse for students who don’t wear the badges. Students have been "very compliant" in wearing the badges, she said.

If a student refuses to wear a badge, disciplinary action might ensue, but a school district can’t deny the student an education, Medina said.

Santa Fe High School parent Keith Gray said he feels safer knowing the school can use the monitoring system to find students who went missing during a fire evacuation for example.

"It’s going to help find kids on campus if there is an emergency," Gray said. "They’re minors. It’s not like they inserted the badges under a layer of skin."

This story was brought to you thanks to khou.com’s partnership with The Galveston County Daily News.

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