Student sees ‘mark of the beast’ in school’s microchip tracking program, files suit

RFID microchip

A San Antonio School district spent $261,000 in an effort to save money by using microchips to track its students, bringing religious and civil liberties groups together in a pitched battle against what one student called “the mark of the beast.”

What do you mean, not even global positioning systems embedded in bloodhounds led by Sherlock Holmes can help you track this logic?

Relax and think like a bureaucrat.

Like most districts in the state, the Northside Independent School District endured a tough 2011 session of the Legislature that left it with $61.5 million less over a two-year period and 256 teacher positions unfilled.

Because the state has a Stephen Hawking-like calculation for school funding based in part on average daily attendance (please see p. 10 of the Texas Education Agency guide to school finance), Northside did its own calculating.

Maximize attendance of the 4,200 students in the district and realize an additional $1.7 million in revenue from the state, Associated Press reports.

But how to do that with all those kids sleeping in, skipping off to the malt shop for sodas and the jukebox or hotwiring those jacked up Ram pickups for some gang initiation?

As simple as finding $261,000 in your strapped budget to embed tracking microchips in the identification badges of your students at one high school and one middle school. On a test basis, or course. And, please, the district prefers you call them locator chips.

Only one of the students, Andrea Hernandez, prefers to think of them as religious sacrilege. From the time microchips were developed for human beings, evangelical Christian groups have interpreted their use, even the barcoding of the devices, as “the mark of the beast,” as described in the Bible’s Book of Revelation.

We swear, we aren’t kidding.

The school district relented on the chip, but when it insisted Hernandez wear the ID badge, she refused to submit to a false god. She and her parents went to court, the AP story says.

The Rutherford Institute, a civil rights non-profit in Charlottesville, Va., that has made school surveillance one of its causes, has also filed a lawsuit on behalf of Hernandez.

A hearing in district court scheduled for Tuesday was postponed after attorneys for the school district requested the case be moved to federal court.

You can see now the wisdom of maximizing all that state revenue.

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, quite often a voice of reason in a habitually zany Legislature, intends to file a bill that would prohibit Texas public school districts from using tracking chips for any reason, Chris Steinbach, her chief of staff, told AP.

Roughly the same bills Kolkhorst has filed in every session since 2005 have been routinely ignored. The Hernandez lawsuit might change that.

"How often do you see an issue where the ACLU and Christian fundamentalists come together?” Steinbach told AP. “It's unusual."

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Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of RFID device by flickr user xampl9, used via a Creative Commons license.