School officials with the Northside Independent School District have agreed to re-admit Andrea Hernandez to John Jay High School’s Science and Engineering Academy. Hernandez, who will resume her studies at John Jay as a high school junior when school convenes on Monday, Aug. 26, was expelled from the magnet school program after raising religious freedom and privacy objections to NISD’s “Student Locator Project,” which relied on RFID tracking badges to enable school officials to track students’ location on school property. After a drawn-out battle waged in court and within the community, school officials with the Northside Independent School District announced their decision to stop using the RFID tracking badges. According to school officials, the decision to cease the “Student Locator Project” was due in part to low participation rates, negative publicity, and a lawsuit by The Rutherford Institute, whose attorneys had filed suit against school officials in November 2012 on behalf of Hernandez, then a sophomore.
“Whether you’re talking about NSA surveillance, SWAT team raids on organic farmers, or young people being chipped, tracked and treated like criminals, it’s all too easy to get discouraged when faced with a government that not only refuses to listen but steadfastly continues to undermine the Constitution,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “There are very few happy endings for those who stand up to the government and say ‘no more.’ Hopefully, Andrea Hernandez will prove to be the exception and will use this opportunity to continue to stand strong for freedom.”
In 2012, the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, launched a program, the “Student Locator Project,” aimed ostensibly at increasing public funding for the district by increasing student attendance rates. As part of the pilot program, roughly 4,200 students at Jay High School and Jones Middle School were required to wear “SmartID” card badges embedded with an RFID tracking chip which made it possible for school officials to track students’ whereabouts on campus at all times. School officials hoped to expand the program to the district’s 112 schools. For 15-year-old Andrea Hernandez, a Christian, the badges pose a significant religious freedom concern in addition to the obvious privacy issues. In response to her requests to opt out of the program and use chipless badges, Hernandez was informed that “there will be consequences for refusal to wear an ID card.” For example, students who refused to take part in the ID program were not able to access essential services like the cafeteria and library, nor would they be able to purchase tickets to extracurricular activities. According to Hernandez, teachers were even requiring students to wear the IDs to use the bathroom.
In coming to Andrea’s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys alleged that the school’s attempts to penalize, discriminate and retaliate against Andrea violated her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. “It has been a long road and rocky at times, but with our faith in the Lord we were able to prevail,” stated Andrea’s father, Steve Hernandez. “The Rutherford Institute and Jerri Ward did an outstanding job in our case and deserve wonderful recognition for all they have helped us accomplish in this matter, they are true American Patriots. The fact of the matter is that none of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for my daughter Andrea Hernandez standing up for what she believes in and inspiring other students around her to do the same.”
Affiliate attorneys Jerri Lynn Ward, a private practitioner, and Anand Agneshwar and Anna Thompson of Arnold & Porter assisted The Rutherford Institute with Andrea’s defense.