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Depending On Decision, RFID Case Could Reach Supreme Court

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio

The federal hearing concluded without a final decision in the case between the Northside Independent School District and a John Jay High School student who refuses to wear a radio frequency identification card.

In the meantime, 15-year-old Andrea Hernandez, the sophomore refusing the ID card, will be allowed to stay at John Jay until the end of the semester. Northside Superintendent Brian Woods said that decision was made by the district.

"Clearly this close to final exams for a high student, the best thing for her is to stay through those exams and so we’re happy to allow for that," Woods said, adding that Northside will abide by Judge Orlando Garcia’s decision which will be made later this week.

During arguments, Hernandez and her family said that even wearing an ID offered without the chip -- which NISD offered as an alternative -- is still endorsing the program. The family believes the chip is the 'Mark of the Beast' in the Bible’s book of Revelations. The family considers themselves non-denominational Christians and attend Cornerstone Church.

Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
The ID on the left was issued to Hernandez during her Freshman year; it's this card she wants to use for school purposes. The microchip in the middle is the actual RFID tag. The casing of the RFID tag was broken open for demonstration.

Hernandez said she wants to stay at Jay using an ID she received during her freshman year and for the district to respect her privacy and religious concerns.

“I earned my way into this school and for them to kick me out due to my religious objections is unfair,” Andrea Hernandez said.

Andrea’s father, Steven Hernandez, went as far as saying Northside ISD is the anti-Christ when asked who played that role in the case.

"God is our savior, God is who we worship, and he’s who we serve," Hernandez said. "Not NISD."

Northside argued that the Student Locator Project, which is being piloted at John Jay and Jones Middle School, enhances student safety and security and generated revenue for the district based on attendance. Northside started the pilot in October.

All students in both schools must wear an ID visibly on their body. Inside of the card is the RFID chip. The chip admits a signal that reveals a student’s location within a ‘three-room proximity’ on campus.

The system also takes attendance; the more students in class for the day, the more money Northside receives from the state. This system is known as the weighted average daily attendance. With the two schools in the program alone, NISD estimates the program will generate an additional $25 million over ten years.

The IDs also are used to pay for lunches, check-out library books, and participate in certain extra-curricular activities like voting for homecoming court.

Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Andrea Hernandez's father Steven Hernandez, holding the RFID chip.

Because Andrea Hernandez refuses to use the card, her attorney argued that she is shut out of the schools economy, even forced to use a "segregated" lunch line. The district countered that line is set aside for students who forgot their ID card for the day or those -- like Andrea -- who refuse to participate.

Hernandez wants to remain at Jay so she can complete her course work in the schools magnet: The Jay Science and Engineering Academy. Some of the classes offered at Jay are not available at Taft, which is the campus she would have to attend if she were not in the magnet.

After attempting the grievance process through the district, Hernandez received a letter from Northside stating that she would be switched to Taft for not accepting the ID. She petitioned with a restraining order to allow her to remain at Jay, which was granted and then extended. It would have expired on Wednesday if the district did not allow her to stay until the end of exams.

The counsel for the Hernandez family is not arguing that the program be dismantled, only that Hernandez be allowed to attend Jay without being forced to use the card or support the program.

During arguments, both sides attempted to allude to the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn. but Judge Garcia dismissed the topic.

A decision will likely come before Wednesday, and the Hernandez family has promised to appeal if the injunction is not granted. Her legal counsel plans to take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary.

The family said they have gathered 750 signatures from the public to stop the district’s Student Locator Project stating:

"We concerned citizens urge Northside Independent School District to immediately stop using RFID to track students. We all call on NISD to treat students and parents who oppose the technology with courtesy and respect."

They did not list a goal for how many signatures they are trying to obtain.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules