Brittan ID program dropped
A controversial program to track elementary schoolchildren with radio-powered badges ended Tuesday after the company that developed the technology pulled out.
To some applause and some moans of disappointment, Earnie Graham, the superintendent/principal of Brittan Elementary School in Sutter, announced that the electronic badges would not be used, effective immediately.
"I'm disappointed; that's about all I can say at this point," Graham said after the special meeting, which drew dozens of parents and media from as far as Los Angeles. "I think I let my staff down. Nobody on this campus knows every student."
The radio ID card program was started last month by Graham and Sutter-based technology company InCom. All students and faculty were required to wear the badges, which beamed information to scanners mounted above classroom doors.
But the program quickly became embroiled in controversy, with some parents objecting to their children being "tagged" like inventory. Others expressed concern that the badge antennas had potential health risks. The issue reached a peak when parents Michael and Dawn Cantrall filed a complaint Jan. 30 with the American Civil Liberties Union.
"I'm not convinced it's over," she said after an InCom representative announced it was removing the system. "I'm happy for now that kids are not being tagged, but I'm still fighting to keep it out of our school system. It has to stop here."
Opposing views about the badges were "directly affecting the community," Cantrall added. "It's hard, but I feel we're doing the right thing."
Brittan Elementary has about 590 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The scanners above classroom doors had already been disabled, and students who didn't wear the badges were not being disciplined.
The school board called a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the program, but voted to table the matter after InCom representative Doug Ahlers announced the company was terminating its agreement.
Earlier this week, parents who were adamantly opposed to the program picketed before and after school, holding signs that read, "No RFID Tracking - Children are Human Beings," and "Is Your Child's Health at Risk?"
The Cantralls, along with parents Michele and Jeff Tatro, have said they don't want their children's identities compromised should anyone get access to the badges. They also were worried about health risks, though InCom representatives insisted the receivers in the badges posed "no health risks whatsoever."
But other parents strongly defended the badges, saying they provided important protection for students and the faculty responsible for them.
"Technology scares some people - it's a fear of the unknown," Mary Brower said before the meeting. "Any kind of new technology has the potential for misuse, but I feel confident the school is not going to misuse it."
The parent of three Brittan students, Brower earlier said she would support Graham and his decisions regarding the pilot program.
"Since the badges were made into a controversy, Mr. Graham, in print especially, has maybe come across as a dictator, but the fact is ... he has to be the one in charge," she said. "He has a personal relationship with the kids ... he's listening to concerns and he does respond and address them."
Appeal-Democrat reporter Kymm Mann can be reached at 749-4724. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.