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Lawsuit targets ‘locator’ chips in Texas student IDs

A Texas student is suing the Northside Independent School District over its SmartID student-tracking technology.

To 15-year-old Andrea Hernandez, the tracking microchip embedded in her student ID card is a “mark of the beast,” sacrilege to her Christian faith—not to mention how it pinpoints her location, even in the school bathroom.

But to her budget-reeling San Antonio school district, those chips carry a potential $1.7 million in classroom funds.

Starting this fall, the fourth-largest school district in Texas is experimenting with “locator” chips in student ID badges on two of its campuses, allowing administrators to track the whereabouts of 4,200 students with GPS-like precision. Hernandez’s refusal to participate isn’t a twist on teenage rebellion, but it has launched a debate over privacy and religion that has forged a rare like-mindedness between typically opposing groups.

When Hernandez and her parents balked at the so-called SmartID, the school agreed to remove the chip but still required her to wear the badge. The family refused on religious grounds, stating in a lawsuit that even wearing the badge was tantamount to “submission of a false god” because the card still indicated her participation.

A state district judge had been expected to decide Nov. 28 whether Northside Independent School District could transfer Hernandez to a different campus. But the family’s attorney said late on Nov. 27 that the hearing was cancelled after the school district asked that the case be moved to federal court. A new hearing hasn’t been set.

“How often do you see an issue where the ACLU and Christian fundamentalists come together? It’s unusual,” said Chris Steinbach, the chief of staff for a Republican state lawmaker who has filed a bill to outlaw the technology in Texas schools.

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