Bobo’s World: Tag ‘Em and Bag ‘Em

Sweet holy mother of God:

SUTTER, California (AP) — The only grade school in this rural town is requiring students to wear radio frequency identification badges that can track their every move. Some parents are outraged, fearing it will rob their children of privacy.

The badges introduced at Brittan Elementary School on January 18 rely on the same radio frequency and scanner technology that companies use to track livestock and product inventory.

While similar devices are being tested at several schools in Japan so parents can know when their children arrive and leave, Brittan appears to be the first U.S. school district to embrace such a monitoring system. Civil libertarians hope to keep it that way.

“If this school doesn’t stand up, then other schools might adopt it,” Nicole Ozer, a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, warned school board members at a meeting Tuesday night. “You might be a small community, but you are one of the first communities to use this technology.”

The system was imposed, without parental input, by the school as a way to simplify attendance-taking and potentially reduce vandalism and improve student safety. Principal Earnie Graham hopes to eventually add bar codes to the existing IDs so that students can use them to pay for cafeteria meals and check out library books.

But some parents see a system that can monitor their children’s movements on campus as something straight out of Orwell.

“There is a way to make kids safer without making them feel like a piece of inventory,” said Michael Cantrall, one of several angry parents who complained. “Are we trying to bring them up with respect and trust, or tell them that you can’t trust anyone, you are always going to be monitored and someone is always going to be watching you?”

Cantrall said he told his children, in the 5th and 7th grades, not to wear the badges. He also filed a protest letter with the board and alerted the ACLU.

Graham, who also serves as the superintendent of the single-school district, told the parents that their children could be disciplined for boycotting the badges — and that he doesn’t understand what all their angst is about.

“Sometimes when you are on the cutting edge, you get caught,” Graham said, recounting the angry phone calls and notes he has received from parents.

Each student is required to wear identification cards around their necks with their picture, name and grade and a wireless transmitter that beams their ID number to a teacher’s handheld computer when the child passes under an antenna posted above a classroom door.

Graham also asked to have a chip reader installed in locker room bathrooms to reduce vandalism, although that reader is not functional yet. And while he has ordered everyone on campus to wear the badges, he said only the 7th and 8th grade classrooms are being monitored thus far.

Emphasis mine.

In the first place: How many kids can there be in this “close-knit farming comunity?” An easier way of taking attendance? How about asking them to sign in? How about having every teacher do a roll call? Might take teaching time away, but if that’s your primary concern, policing the kids’ presence in school, that would be a simpler way to take care of it.

In the second place: I seriously doubt this is the only school district to do this or consider doing something similar. I’m not so far removed from high school that I can’t remember locker searches and metal detectors being installed; there’s really two forces at work when it comes to issues of “safety” and “vandalism” on school grounds: parents who expect the school to keep their little angels out of trouble as well as educating them, and school administrators so scared of bathroom graffiti they’d handcuff kids between periods if they thought they could get away with it. Members of both these forces, which combine for the sort of rolling clusterfuck on display here, need to get lives of their own, ASAP. Personally, I’d be a lot more worried in the post-Columbine era about the untreated depressives whose parents have gun collections than about the kids who cut out after third period to get high behind the school, but knowing how to tell the difference between the two is so time-consuming. Much easier to just track them all via radio frequencies from your cushy principal’s office.

In the third place: They make microchips you can have injected into your pets to find them again if they get lost. Why not just inject the kids with those? That way there’s no badge to lose, and the code can be passed on to the kid’s college, military branch or employer to make sure that child is always right where his or her superiors want him or her to be. Call it an investment in the future of America.