Published November 26, 2012
She calls it the “mark of the devil.”
Texas teen Andrea Hernandez, 15, who was kicked out of her high school after refusing to wear a tracking device, will be allowed to return after a judge granted her a temporary restraining order against Northside Independent School District.
Hernandez has refused to wear the school-issued identification card, which tracks student movements on school grounds, because she believes it is Satanic and claims it is against her religious principles and impinges on her right to privacy. She has called it the "mark of the beast."
A judge will make a final decision Wednesday on whether Hernandez has the right to refuse to carry the tracking ID card. The case, which would be a major win for privacy advocates if she’s allowed to refuse to wear the ID, could set a precedent for similar cases nationwide as districts decide whether or not to track their own students.
"This will send a message, if we can get the junction, students will be able to opt out of this program," said Hernandez's lawyer, Marc Whitehead, a lawyer representing the Rutherford Institute, a non-profit agency that takes on religious-based civil rights cases.
The case blew up earlier this year when she was reassigned from John Jay High School’s Science and Engineering Academy in San Antonio for refusing to wear the tracking device, a GPS-type device that allows school officials to track a student's precise location on school property. Her high school was one of two chosen as pilots to try out the program.
The program is meant to improve classroom attendance in schools seeking to maximize per-student funding from the state. There are plans to expand the program if it is successful.
The ID cards include Radio Frequency Identification chips that produce a radio signal, presumably to alert officials when a student is playing hooky, or skipping class.
Northside was the first Texas district to test this RFID tracking system.
"They pose direct privacy problems for students," said Jay Stanley, Senior policy ACLU analyst "They also raise the question what are we teaching our children, schools teach not only what they say but by example."
Hernandez and her father, Steven, both described as very religious by her lawyers, decided to take a stand against the school district.
The school district could not be reached for comment. But a district spokesman told the San Antonio Express-News that Hernandez was allowed to wear her badge with the chip removed, even though there is no opting out of the program.
Critics say it’s simply a ploy by the school to make more money.
They also claim the system could be susceptible to hacking by sexual predators wanting to know the whereabouts of young teens – and it could put students at risk.
Just this weekend, according to the Express-News, the system was reportedly hacked by someone purporting to be with the hacker group Anonymous. A spokesman for the district said the site was never compromised.
Nonetheless, the hacking attempt fueled fears of what the tracking could do.
"Are we creating a generation that is going to be acclimated to that kind of government tracking?" Stanley asked. "Is that really something we want to do in America?"