San Antonio's Northside ISD, which became the focus of national controversy when an intensely evangelical high school sophomore refused to wear her RFID-equipped student ID because it was the Mark of the Beast, is not the first school district to track students' whereabouts using geolocation technology, nor will it be the last. Despite the inevitable outcry, it's seen as a relatively effective way to boost attendance and, as a result, state funding.
But the rationale for deploying tracking devices in public schools isn't always so crass, particularly in the wake of Sandy Hook. Take Southlake's Carroll ISD which, as CBS 11 reports, is buying 100 wearable tracking devices from a Dallas company, eTrak, as part of a pilot program aimed at improving safety.
The idea is that teachers and others can use the devices -- small black boxes that attach to a lanyard or key chain -- to call for help in an emergency. Here's how the company describes the product:
Slow response time can prolong the emergency. At the press of the eTrak Alert Button, emergency messages are instantly sent to pre-programmed recipients. Teachers can notify the administration office. The school office can notify local law enforcement, all within seconds. The eTrak Panic Alert technology sends emergency messages containing the sender's name and photo, along with their location.
"This device is not going to stop a Sandy Hook from happening," Carroll ISD spokeswoman Julie Thannum said. "But the one thing it will do is when someone pushes the button, we'll be able to tell where they are in that building."
It does more than that, of course. It constantly tracks the user's location using GPS and Wi-Fi signals, whether they're in the classroom or sitting on a toilet. That Carroll ISD is testing the program on adult teachers, not students, makes the endeavor a bit less unsettling, but it's still raises difficult questions about privacy and the relationship between employer and employee. A position paper signed by the ACLU, the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, and more than a dozen other civil liberties groups, worries that using tracking devices in schools violates civil liberties and dehumanizes wearers, pointing out that the same technology is used to track livestock.
Carroll ISD has given no indication that it plans to monitor its employees like cattle, but it's not hard to envision a scenario in which it would be convenient to use the geolocation tracking for something other than an emergency response. The district plans to review the program after a year.