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A student who sued her school district over a requirement that she wear an ID tag equipped with an RFID chip that allowed the school to track her movements lost her court case yesterday.

The case filed in a Texas federal court, was a strange one. San Antonio sophomore Andrea Hernandez objected to the RFID chip on the basis of theology, not privacy — she believes that the tracking tag is the Mark of the Beast warned of in the biblical book of Revelation. As a result, she contends that her religion forbids her from wearing the tag, and that the school’s tag requirement is a violation of her First Amendment rights. As her father put it in a September letter, “it is our Hell Fire Belief that if we compromise our faith and religious freedom to allow you to track my daughter while she is at school it will condemn us to hell.” In a later meeting with a district official he also expressed concern that wearing the chip might cause cancer.

Hernandez was suspended later that month for refusing to wear her school-issued ID, and told that she would not be allowed to return without it. District officials gave her the option of transferring to a school that didn’t use the tracking chips. Instead she sued, and won a preliminary injunction against the suspension. Yesterday’s ruling lifted that injunction and freed the district to transfer her to another school. (Hernandez is likely to appeal.)

So where does the victory come in? Well, at a relatively early stage of the process, the school offered to give Hernandez an ID badge with the RFID chip disabled. Her movements wouldn’t be tracked, her attendance wouldn’t be automatically logged — it’d just be an ordinary ID on an ordinary lanyard.

Hernandez refused this accommodation on the grounds that even a chip-less ID — which her father referred  to as a “symbol” of the RFID tracking program — constituted forced speech in favor of the program itself. The court rejected that argument yesterday.

It’s not clear whether Hernandez would have prevailed in court if the school hadn’t offered the compromise that it did, but the language of the court’s ruling made it clear that she would have been on stronger ground. (They did not address the question of the constitutionality of the ID requirement on privacy grounds, as Hernandez explicitly disavowed such a claim.)

Yesterday’s ruling, then, leaves many of the core issues surrounding student RFID tags unresolved. But it does provide support for the idea that allowing students to opt out of RFID requirements is a reasonable accommodation, as well as raising the public profile of the opt-out path for those students who might be interested in it.

One note about the RFID requirement. Although yesterday’s ruling claimed that the tags “are expected to improve [school] safety by allowing school staff to know the whereabouts of a student that may be missing or unaccounted for in the event of a fire alarm or other emergency evacuation,” that’s not the reason that the chips were added.

In Texas, as elsewhere in the country, state school funding is set partially on the basis of student attendance. When students are absent, funding goes down. Equipping ID cards with RFID, and mandating that students wear the IDs on campus at all times, allows the school to automate attendance-taking and include students who arrive late, leave early, or otherwise fall through the roll-call cracks in their attendance reports. More accurate record-keeping means more state money.

As is so often the case these days, this new — and potentially problematic — education policy is driven primarily by the ongoing crisis in public school funding.

On Saturday night two campus cops were sent to the dorm room of Graham Gaddis, a first-year student at the University of Kentucky, responding to a report that he’d been seen pouring liquor out of the room’s window. While the cops waited, Gaddis set up a video camera, turned it on, and pointed it at the door.

In the video that follows, Gaddis can be seen denying the allegations against him, then refusing the cops entry, then refusing to move his foot so that they can go around him and into the room. He says they need a warrant, they say they have “administrative rights.”

“Do you want to be kicked out of this university?” one asks. “Because I can pave that road.”

“You have braces,” Gaddis replies. “Nice.”

That’s about when the cursing starts. “Fuck you guys,” Gaddis says. “You guys suck dick. You can’t find shit.” That’s right after he makes a weird, mocking “nee nee nee nee nee” sound at them.

After that, they start debating procedure. “Have you ever read the student code of conduct?” a cop asks. “Multiple times.” “Okay, cool. Then you should know well…”

Gaddis interrupts. “So the student code of conduct — if a cop comes to your door you have to let him in? Nah. Your fucking dorm is exactly the same as your house. You have the exact same privacy rights. You cannot come in my room without consent.” The cop says that’s right, but that administrative representatives, not cops, have the right to enter. When Gaddis asks why his RA isn’t conducting the search, then, the cop says “your belligerence.”

“I’m belligerent, dude? Are you fucking stupid?”

After that they just all hang out for a while, debating the Fourth Amendment, until Gaddis interrupts one too many times.

“No no no! Shut up!” a cop yells. “I’m talking! Okay? I am talking! I am in charge here! This is what’s going to happen. We’re just going to leave your ass alone. And we’re going to write up a Student Contact, and we’re going to the dean of students, and we’re going to kick your ass out of this university. Where you’re going is home. Don’t even bother paying your tuition next semester. Because you’re going.”

Then they apparently walk away, and as they do, Gaddis calls after them. “Good point, guys, good point. Sorry I kicked you out of my room. I just owned you guys. Fuck you guys. You can’t come in my room.”

That’s when the cop comes back, shoves him, and bursts into the room: “I can come in your room, because I’m a university administrator, stud.”

They proceed to search the room while the student continues to mock them.

As of yesterday morning, the video had been watched more than a hundred thousand times on YouTube.

Yesterday afternoon the cop was fired.

Representatives of the Darfur Student Association say that 140 students were arrested and 180 injured in protests at the Omdurman Islamic University on Tuesday when government agents and ruling party supporters attacked activists and burned dormitory buildings. Dozens of students are reportedly still missing.

As I reported on Tuesday, that day’s clashes followed an incident last week in which four Darfuri students were found dead at Al-Gazira University after participating in a sit-in against the university’s refusal to waive their tuition fees as mandated by peace agreements in effect in Sudan since 2006. Their bodies were found in a local canal where witnesses say protesters were chased by supporters of the regime.

The Darfur Student Association says that 450 dorm rooms were destroyed in Tuesday’s attack and that hundreds of laptops and mobile phones were looted. They say that police, troops, and supporters of the ruling National Congress Party delayed fire trucks and ambulances’ attempts to gain access to the campus, and that harassment of Darfuri students continued on Wednesday.

Students were also reportedly beaten and tear-gassed in simultaneous protests in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

Amnesty International on Wednesday said that “Sudanese security services have clearly used excessive force since the first peaceful murmurings of dissent at last week’s student sit-in,” demanding that the government “respect the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”

A US representative echoed Amnesty’s statements, calling the students’ deaths “shocking.” Given the government’s failure to live up to its obligations, Ambassador Dane Smith said on Wednesday, “it’s quite reasonable, it seems to me, that Darfuri students are protesting.” The United States has been, he said, “very unhappy about the excessive force used against Darfuri students demonstrating for their rights under the agreement.”

Administrators at a California community college removed the elected student body president from office earlier this year over charges that students and faculty claim were concocted in an effort to silence his criticisms of college fiscal policy.

Officials at Moorpark College say that campus cops caught 33-year-old Jon Foote drunk on campus on one occasion and “inciting [his] fellow students into becoming a mob.” A professor who was doing calculus with Foote immediately prior to the first incident says he was not inebriated, and students present at the second say he was assisting them in dealing with over-aggressive canvassers.

In reality, his supporters argue, administrators were gunning for Foote because of the light he shone on excessive campus spending at a time when classes and professors were getting the axe. The administration’s unilateral decision to remove him from office in the middle of his term was preposterous, they say.

Another incident that took place around the same time seems to lend credence to their story. Accused of plagiarizing the homework of a study partner, Foote was barred from a physics class he was taking. When he refused to stop attending, administrators sent campus police to remove him from the classroom.

The kicker? The plagiarism charges were later dropped.

Foote remains on campus, progressing toward his degree. He’s concerned that the disciplinary charges could hurt his chances of transfer to a four-year school, but he has no plans to drop out in the meantime.

And he’s thinking about running for student government president again next year.

A new North Carolina law makes it a crime for any student to, “with the intent to intimidate or torment a school employee,”

a. Build a fake profile or Web site.

b. Post or encourage others to post on the Internet private, personal, or sexual information pertaining to a school employee.

c. Post a real or doctored image of the school employee on the Internet.

Story time.

When I was in tenth grade, my school’s principal ordered the installation of several video cameras at the school’s entrances (and, if memory serves, in certain hallways). The year was 1984, and I was pretty bookish for a juvenile delinquent, so I ran off a handful of 8.5 by 11 posters bearing her photo and the message “BIG SISTER IS WATCHING YOU,” and taped them up around the school.

Did I intend to torment her with these posters? You bet I did.

Which means that if I’d done this today, in North Carolina, and I’d put a photo of one of the posters on Tumblr, I’d have been guilty of “cyber-bullying” under section 14-458.2(b)(1)c of the General Statutes of the state. My act would have been a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to one thousand dollars along with possible community service or house arrest.

Just for making fun of my principal on Tumblr.

About This Blog

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StudentActivism.net is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

To contact Angus, click here. For more about him, check out AngusJohnston.com.
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