The George Miller III Headstart site located in Richmond, CA has begun implementing RFID tracking technology for its 200 preschoolers aged 3-5. According to Karen Mitchoof, public information officer for the Contra Costa Employment and Human Services Department, the primary goal of the technology is to supplement safety and to track Federally mandated statistics required for the Headstart program. Headstart sites are not part of the Contra Costa School District. As part of its funding, the Federal government requires reporting for statistics such as attendance and meals. Up until now, such tracking was done manually by teachers. Each student’s attendance, meals, and activity was logged by teachers who would then compile and report them for reporting purposes.
With the introduction of RFID technology made possible by a Federal stimulus grant of $115,000, the Headstart site was able to deploy an array of sensors throughout the site to read signals emitted by RFID transmitters embedded in jerseys to be worn by students. The George Miller III site, which cost $50,000 to deploy, is the first of three possible sites slated for this program. Other sites will be added based on considerations such as the physical layout of the site.
This pilot program was developed in conjunction with parents and teachers who gave input in a Headstart Policy Council. Answering privacy concerns, Mitchoof wanted to make clear that “personal identifying information is not retained and reported”. Students will receive a jersey upon arrival at the school. While the student’s name may be attached to that jersey, all identifying information is deleted by the end of the day and only overall student enrollment and activity information are reported to the Federal government. Parents who object to the use of this tracking method have the option of opting out of the program. In such cases, the students activities will have to be logged manually.
When asked about who will have access to the data collected, Mitchoof responded “the staff will have real time information for each student. So if a student wonders off outside of an authorized area, alarms will sound to alert staff of the event.” She further points out that RFID technology is in no way a substitute for human monitoring adding “it is a tool to supplement what teachers already do manually on paper and the same teachers will still physically be there to track and monitor students”.