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The kids were right, school is a prison   


By Scott Bradner 


The school board in Sutter California and the school superintendents of the Brittan Elementary School seem to want to prove that generations of students were correct when they felt that school officials cared more about confining students to classrooms than they did about educating them.  At this point the school board is well on its way to achieve that goal.


Like petty little dictators the school officials have imposed a new ID system on the elementary school students.  The students have been issued ID tags they must wear around their necks -- just like in some prisons -- and the school officials have threatened disciplinary proceedings against any student who fails to do so.  The ID tags include the student's name, picture, school name, class year and school ID number.  The tags also include a RFID chip that responds to a RFID scanner with a student-specific serial number.  As part of an initial test, the school has been equipped with RFID scanners above the doors to some classrooms and some bathrooms.  The system was installed without any advance notice or any discussion with students or their parents.


School officials said that the system would provide better information about school attendance, which the school needs to report to the state, would let folks know if a student failed to show up for a class and would help discover intruders (because they would not have ID tags).  According to news reports, the school has not had a problem with truancy so the school officials seem to be fixing a problem they do not have.  Note that unless all people in the building, including teachers and officials, wear ID tags it's not clear how such tags will help pinpoint intruders.  But what the ID tags do is pinpoint students.  Pinpoint students while in school and while walking to and from school.  Sounds like an ideal enabler for someone wanting to snatch a kid - just set up a RFID scanner beside the path in the woods and you will be told when the target kid walks by with his or her ID tag in their bag (assuming the kid even bothered to take if off after leaving school).


It is bad, real bad, that school officials decided to install such a system without prior discussion with parents.  But what is far worse has been the reaction of these same school officials and their lawyer since the word got out.  Instead of instantly stopping the test when parents began to complain, which is what anyone with any hint of common sense would have done, they have threatened students who do not want to wear the tags.  An example of the stupidity being demonstrated was an offer by the school's lawyer to let some students whose parents complained wear blank tags with no RFID in them but still insisting that the students would be disciplined if they failed to wear the useless tags.  I can think of no rational reason for the officials to act this way.


The school could get the information that it actually needed to report to the state by having the students swipe a magstripe card when entering or leaving the school building with far les threat to student safety and privacy.  But that would be too sensible. By the way, don't laugh at the plight of these students -- your pointy-haired boss might suddenly decide that finding out when you go to the bathroom is critical to the health of your company.


disclaimer: Considering the endowment, the heath of Harvard does not seem to be at risk and the above puzzlement is mine, not from the university.