Student Loses RFID Tracking Badge Lawsuit

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jan 10, 2013

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Some public grade schools around the country have begun requiring students wear a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip in ID badges around their necks while on campus. The idea is not just to keep track of students’ whereabouts, but to actually secure more school funding. Funding for public schools depends on how many students are in attendance on a daily basis. Students not in their homeroom seats when the bell rings will not be counted and the school will therefore not receive funding for them. But if it can be shown that the missing student is somewhere on campus even if they are not present for roll call, they will be accounted for when funding is administered.

But one Texas high school student doesn’t see it this way and feels that being forced to wear a RFID violates her religion. Several news outlets report that 15-year-old Andrea Hernandez and her family view the badge as a “Mark of the Beast,” and wearing it would be to disobey their God. The young student has not only refused to sport the ID, but has sued the school district in an effort to reverse the suspension she was given for refusing to wear the smart card, and to dismiss her from having to wear it.

Each RFID badge is equipped with a barcode identifying the student’s Social Security number and their location on campus. After a judge temporarily lifted Hernandez’s suspension while deliberating, the school district agreed to remove the radio-frequency chip from Hernandez’s badge. But Hernandez’s lawyer says this is not good enough and that she should be exempt from having to where the ID card at all – RFID or not. The presiding judge concluded this week that there was no breach of the girl’s religious rights and that she must choose to wear it, or attend a different school that does not require that she wear the RFID.

Understanding the Judge’s Decision

In her legal pursuit, Hernandez was claiming that being forced to wear the RFID badge was forcing her to show support for the tracking program, of which she didn’t believe in; and that refusing her right to expression violates the First Amendment. US District Judge Orlando Garcia refused the injunction and dismissed this argument on grounds that the “student ID badge is not expressive conduct under the First Amendment,” the judge said according to this report. The court found that to wear the badge did not mean a student was representing a particular message or religious affiliation.

Children on public grade school campuses are generally required to follow established rules, some of which may seem to violate some constitutional rights. But in reality, it comes down to the fact that children are in the hands of school authorities when on campus and they must abide by the rules (generally for their own safety and the safety of other students), or be subject to consequences, within reason. For example, the Fourth Amendment, which prevents unreasonable or unlawful search and seizure demands that the police have a warrant to enter a home without permission; but school officers or law enforcement have the right to open and seize any materials from a student’s locker without their permission. This is because the locker, and technically everything in it, is school property and only the school’s permission is required.

Generally speaking, public schools have discretion over how students must dress and behave within the confines of the school campus. Many middle and high schools have policies forbidding the use of cell phones on campus or have dress codes or rules against wearing certain garments. If one student is exempted from following a policy (unless for reasons of legitimate disability or religious standard) it would undermine the action of the entire school or district. Such is the case of Hernandez and the RFID badge – Judge Garcia ruled that the student’s reasoning for refusing to abide were not sufficient enough in regards to her religion to make her an exception to the rule.

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