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Northside ISD Testing RFID Locators On School Buses

Joey Palacios

Northside Independent School District has begun testing its radio frequency identification project on its buses. While the district has previously stressed that students are only tracked on the two campuses in the RFID pilot, the bus readers are not actively collecting data.

Out of its 850 buses, five special education buses in NISD now have the RFID readers installed. According to the district, that is to test functionality.

"This RFID system on these five buses are not operational in the sense that they are collecting location data on students," said Northside spokesman Pascual Gonzalez. "It’s strictly to see how well this equipment works on a vibrating moving bus."

The readers were installed three weeks ago and are still being tested.

The five buses transport students to Jay High School and Jones Middle school – the two campuses using the RFID pilot program – and the Reddix Center, the district’s special education campus.

Jay and Jones students are already wearing the RFID tags, but those at the Reddix Center are not.  

Gonzalez said the reason for using the technology on buses is similar to the reason it’s used at the schools – security and finances.  Much like state reimbursement for student attendance, school districts also receive money for transporting students.

Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Andrea Hernandez lost her case in federal court against Northside, which means that students can't opt-out of the program.

"Medicaid – a federal program – does provide funding for the transportation of special education students to and from home and school," Gonzalez said. "So we would use this system to help pay for the transportation of special education students."

The state provides money for transporting non-special education students as well. The original proposal for the RFID pilot had special education buses included, but it was not implemented. While no data is being collected, Gonzalez said parents will be notified if that changes.

"If and when a decision is made to make the technology on these buses fully operational, at that point we would communicate with the students and the parents so they totally understand what we’re trying to do," he said.

Northside began using the Student Locator Project at Jay High School and Jones Middle School this past October.  Students involved in the pilot wear ID badges with an RFID microchip inside.

The chips emit a signal that readers on the campus pick up showing a student’s location. The badges are also used to purchase lunch and check out library books. 

The program has received criticism of violating privacy and even been sued in federal court on religious grounds. The court ruled in favor of Northside, who have said the program is an effective way of locating students in an emergency and is an effective way of keeping attendance to collect state money.

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