RFID Mythbusters

January 24, 2013

Please submit any questions to your principal so we can answer them here in this document.

1. Is it safe to wear the badges? I heard that the badges produce "emissions".

RESPONSE: The badges are safer than cell phones. RF (Radio Frequency) does not produce "emissions." RFID or Radio Frequency Identification uses radio wavesto facilitate the communication of data for the purpose of identification and location.

The identification tags worn by students are powered by two mercury-free lithium batteries similar to a CR2032 battery available at stores where batteries are sold (e.g., Wal-Mart). The batteries are sealed in a water proof case (the I.D. Badge). The badges are replaced before the batteries get too low, usually after two years, to maintain quality performance.

This from the Department of Homeland Security Website:


"RFID technology has been commercially available in one form or another since the 1970s. It is now part of our daily lives and can be found in car keys, employee identification, medical history/billing, highway toll tags and security access cards."

2. What frequency range does the RFID tracking system operate?

RESPONSE: 433 MHz (433 megahertz)

Here are other examples of radio frequencies in use:

  • AM radio- 535 kilohertz to 1.7 megahertz
  • Short wave radio- bands from 5.9 megahertz to 26.1 megahertz
  • Citizens band (CB) radio- 26.96 megahertz to 27.41 megahertz
  • Television stations- 54 to 88 megahertz for channels 2 through 6
  • FM radio- 88 megahertz to 108 megahertz
  • Television stations- 174 to 220 megahertz for channels 7 through 13
  • Garage door openers, alarm systems, etc. - Around 40 megahertz
  • Standard cordless phones: Bands from 40 to 50 megahertz
  • Baby monitors: 49 megahertz
  • Radio controlled airplanes: Around 72 megahertz
  • Radio controlled cars: Around 75 megahertz
  • Wildlife tracking collars: 215 to 220 megahertz
  • MIR space station: 145 megahertz and 437 megahertz
  • Cell phones: 824 to 849 megahertz
  • New 900-MHz cordless phones: Obviously around 900 megahertz!
  • Still newer cordless phones: 900 megahertz up to 5.8 gigahertz
  • Air traffic control radar: 960 to 1,215 megahertz
  • Global Positioning System: 1,227 and 1,575 megahertz
  • Deep space radio communications: 2290 megahertz to 2300 megahertz

RF or Radio Frequency / Radio Waves are around us all the time and from all the above-sources and more. Some radio waves (radio and TV stations) hit us 24/7 non-stop. Others, like garage door openers, only transmit the radio frequency when activated. The district RFID badges transmit a radio frequency as a single "ping" every 45 seconds.

3. Are you really able to see how long a student is in the bathroom and which stall he/she is in?

RESPONSE: NO! There is not a badge reader in every room. There are 70 readers at Jay HS and 45 at Jones MS. If a student is located by a reader, the system only shows that the student is in the vicinity of the reader. Administration would not know if the student is in one of the classrooms next to the reader, or in the bathroom close to the reader.

4. Exactly what student information is stored in the ID? I heard that social security numbers were stored in the cards.

RESPONSE: The only data that is stored in the ID is the badge serial number. The student's school number and social security number are NOT stored in the badge.

5. Are the RFID cards "passive" (non-transmitting) or "active" (battery powered transmitting) cards?

RESPONSE: The RFID badges are active, meaning they are battery powered. They transmit a single bit of information (the badge's serial number) once every 45 seconds via a radio frequency. The RFID readers placed throughout the school receive the bit of information (the badge's serial number) and via CAT6 cable, transmit that data (the badge's serial number) to the school's secured server where the school's server, along with the vendor software, matches the serial number to a student through the school's student data base.

6. Is John Jay or NISD receiving any private or federal/state/local government grants to be a test bed for RFID student tracking?

RESPONSE: No. Also, NISD is not the first school district to implement this program.

7. Are you able to track me off of the campus?

RESPONSE: No, the district only has readers at the campuses.

8. Are the RFID cards carried by teachers/students/employees all the same?

RESPONSE: Basically yes, except the staff / employee badges are capable of being used for access control and the system is only being used to locate students.

9. Why are NISD RFID Tracking Systems necessary and how does NISD justify the added expense?

RESPONSE: The RFID system and software serves several important needs:

(a) The RFID system allows authorized school staff, teachers and administrators to know where the students are in the building at all times. Parents expect the school to know where their child is while at school and hold the school responsible. Situations often arise where a parent arrives at the school and he/she needs to know where their child is (e.g., there's an emergency, student has a doctor's appointment, etc.). But school activities, special projects, and participation in sports do not always permit class scheduling to provide the student's location to a certainty. The RFID System provides an extra layer of accountability for the school for the purpose of locating a child while at school.

(b) In the event of a fire drill or actual fire emergency, the RFID System can detect if any students are remaining in the school and where they are. In the event of an emergency requiring a school lockdown, the RFID System can detect what area(s) the students are located. In the event of a fire, the readers continue to work and submit data as long as there is power in the building.

(c) The RFID system takes attendance at a specific time of the day as mandated by the State of Texas. This system generates an internal attendance report and that report is compared to the manual attendance report that is submitted by the classroom teacher. Each day, the system reports that students who were missed by the manual system were in fact in school that day, (the library, the gym, study hall, science project, etc.). These "found" students are verified and then added to the report that eventually gets submitted (ADA Report) to the State for funding purposes.

For example: If the system finds 10 students per day, times 177 school days, times $29 per student = $51,330 of extra State funding to the school. Note that the $29 per day, per student, is only for this example. Some students get ADA funding up to $39 per day or more depending on their classification. Depending on the number of found students, the additional funding will cover the initial investment in two to three years even with the ongoing annual expenses.

Safety, accountability and attendance. This is why it is so important for students to wear their I.D. badges at all times while at school.

A final note, persons found on school property without a visible I.D. badge can be approached by school officials who can determine if that person is authorized to be on the school property. This is a safety issue and parents expect no less from their school officials.

10. Can you give some examples of how the system at Jay helped with safety or security this year?

RESPONSE: Yes! The RFID system has come in handy three times this year.

a) Earlier this year there was a gas leak in buildings at the back of the campus. Six students left their badges with their back packs when the building was evacuated. The badges were "found" when the system was checked. Obviously the students were safe, but if they had passed out from gas fumes, they could have been located more quickly.

b) A special education student did not take his usual bus and did not come home on time. The frantic parents called the campus. The students badge was not on campus, but administration was able to determine that the student left the building by the buses right after the bell. Using that information, they were able to locate the student on the video files from the cameras outside. They were able to identify who this student left with and they were able to quickly locate the student.

c) A student was ill and the parent was called to pick up the student, but the parent was not told where the student was. The nurse's office did a quick campus search and informed the parent that the student was in the band hall.

11. I was under the impression that, if a student was not in class, but on the campus, the locator would find the child and he/she would not be marked absent.

RESPONSE: TEA rules state that a student's record can only be marked "present" if a staff professional verifies the location of the student when attendance was taken. The RFID system does not replace the attendance process currently in place. It just makes it easier to locate the students so that their attendance can be verified visually.

12. There was an article in the Express-News that, "Northside has purchased an additional 200,000 badges to be implemented at all its schools." Is this true?

RESPONSE: That may have been in an article, but it is not true. NISD has purchased less than 5000 badges. This is a "pilot program" for one year and at that point, a discussion and review would take place to see if it would be continued and implemented elsewhere in the district.

13. I have read that the schools, (Jay, Jones and SEA) would get additional revenue from the state. In other publications, I have read that the "district" will get the revenue. How do we know that the money will go DIRECTLY to Jay, SEA and Jones? How will the additional money from the state be spent/divided?

RESPONSE: Any additional revenue will go toward offsetting the expenses of the program until the initial investment is paid off. After this, the district will use these funds to support operations at all campuses.

14. Is it true that students are tracked by school bus RFID sensors?

RESPONSE: No. But this district is looking into applications of RFID technology to locate students on school buses so parents will know where their child is and for student safety. We are testing the application on five buses. These readers are being tested for functionality (best way to install, how do they work in a bouncing/vibrating/moving environment, etc). There is no data being collected. The system is not live. Should we decide to make it live for a pilot period, we will communicate with the parents of the students who ride those buses. Having RIFD readers on buses will also automate the reporting process of NISD providing transportation services to Medicaid eligible special education students.