Federal court hears testimony in case of school district’s forced tracking chips

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Court proceedings continue in a Texas lawsuit that pits a student’s religious freedom against a school district seeking to track the whereabouts of all students on campus electronically.

Steven Hernandez testified in federal court Monday that his daughter, 15-year-old Andrea Hernandez, should be allowed to stay at John Jay High School in San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District, despite her refusal to wear a microchip-laden I.D. badge, reports the San Antonio Express-News.

Father and daughter — both devout Christians — told U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia that they believe wearing the radio frequency-enabled badges is the equivalent of accepting the Book of Revelation’s “mark of the beast,” which symbolizes submission to the Antichrist.

The identification cards are part of a pilot program. Since this fall, all students at John Jay have been required to wear or carry embedded IDs at all times while on school grounds. Electronic readers installed in the schools’ ceiling panels then constantly track every student’s location at school.

If schools can prove that students are on campus, they receive more state funding, Northside Superintendent Brian Woods explained to the court, according to the Express-News. The RFID technology maximizes attendance count. It also provides a way to find students in the event of emergencies.

John Jay is a specialized science and technology magnet school. If the judge rules against Hernandez, she will likely face a forced transfer to Taft High School, her regular neighborhood campus.

The elder Hernandez choked back tears as he read passages from the Bible and described the depth of his religious conviction, the Express-News notes. Forcing his daughter to wear a badge, he told the court, “would compromise our salvation for NISD to make some money.”

Outside the courtroom, Steven Hernandez told the Express-News that “in this case, Northside is the Antichrist.”

Andrea told the judge that she would suffer if she were forced to transfer because Taft, the school she attends, does not offer the computer-related courses she wants to take.

“I earned my way into this school,” Hernandez said, according to WOAI-TV. “And for them to kick me out because of my religious beliefs is unfair for them to do.”

The Hernandez family rejected a compromise suggested by school officials that would allow Andrea to wear the same badge other students wear but without the microchip, notes WOAI. In court, Judge Garcia pursued the reasons for their rejection.

Steven Hernandez testified that accepting the compromise would be “falling in line with the rest and showing support for the program,” reports the Express-News.

“We have made what we think is a reasonable attempt to accommodate her religious objections,” testified Superintendent Woods.

Judge Garcia indicated that he would rule later this week on Andrea’s request for a permanent injunction to prevent the John Jay officials from forcing her to transfer unless she wears a badge.

Northside Independent School District — the fourth largest in Texas — comprises more than 100 schools over 97,000 students. It could eventually use the ID tracking system program at all of its campuses.

The principal at the high school had threatened Hernandez with expulsion before she and her father filed the lawsuit.

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