Scottsdale School District Rolls Out Controversial RFID Trackers In Student Badges

Scottsdale School District Rolls Out Controversial RFID Trackers In Student Badges

By Corinne Murdock |  

This school year, Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) incorporated controversial RFID chip trackers in student and faculty ID badges.  

The district approved the chips in a close 3-2 vote in late June. Board members Libby Hart-Wells, Zach Lindsay, and Julie Cieniawski approved the chips; Amy Carney and Carine Werner opposed them. The estimated cost of the chips totaled $125,000. 

The chip went through a trial run at Coronado High School before being implemented districtwide. The district reportedly upgraded their ID software to enable the chip system over the last two years.   

During the June meeting, the SUSD governing board counsel explained that the chips enable the district to track students when they get on and off the buses. 

Carney asked why the chips were put in all student IDs, and not just bus riders. The SUSD Safety & Security team, which will oversee the program, explained that buses aren’t limited to designated bus riders: any students may board the buses if they’re attending the Boys & Girls Club, field trips, or extracurricular or athletic events.  

The safety team reported that the IDs can’t be used to track daily attendance because they’re only linked to the district’s transportation software. However, the team didn’t guarantee that the chip technology wouldn’t be expanded to other uses such as attendance in the future. The RFID chips within staff badges have an extra feature: they enable access to school buildings. 

SUSD reported that the RFID chip doesn’t store any personally identifiable information, and that no RFID readers were installed inside the school for the purpose of tracking a student’s location.  

Director Joshua Friedman said that the RFID chip translates as a coded number within a closed system, and therefore doesn’t qualify as a digital ID. Friedman also noted that the RFID chip doesn’t work as an active GPS tracker, but a passive one: the chips only record a time and location when a student boards or disembarks from a school bus.

Board President Julie Cieniawski remarked in closing that she and the majority of SUSD leaders weren’t interested in “conspiracy theories” of using RFID technology for ulterior motives.   

Some SUSD parents have expressed concern with the tracking capabilities of the RFID chips, namely the inability to opt-out from the technology and potential suspensions for tampering with the IDs by attempting to remove the chip.

Former state lawmaker and SUSD teacher Michelle Ugenti-Rita wrote on Facebook that the RFID chips were an invasion of privacy.  

“Have they never heard of ‘Find my iPhone?’ This is a complete invasion of privacy. Parents were never notified, or given the option to opt-in to the school district’s new government surveillance program,” said Ugenti-Rita. “What didn’t they learn from masking up our children during COVID? This is something our superintendent, Tom Horne, should investigate and the Legislature should ban when they convene next year.”

No opt-out exists for families who desire to forgo use of the chips. RFID, short for radio-frequency identification, is a technology that allows scanners to engage in automatic identification and data capture (AIDC). AIDC allows for computers to obtain data immediately without human involvement; other types of AIDC include QR codes and voice recognition technology.   

During last week’s meeting, Superintendent Scott Menzel said that the chip readers enable the district to locate students using school transportation. Menzel reported that on the first day of school, three children didn’t arrive at their proper location. The superintendent reported that the ID system enabled them to locate them within five minutes, as opposed to 30 minutes or more. 

In response to community pushback against the chips, SUSD issued a press release on Monday to further explain the RFID software.   

“RFID is not a global positioning system (GPS) and has no tracking capability on its own. Like the RFID in your credit card and debit card, it only works when tapped. The district piloted this program last year and the Governing Board approved it,” stated SUSD. “The RFID in student ID cards is ONLY scanned so that the district’s Transportation department is able to account for those students who board and exit a bus.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

Scottsdale Unified School District Reduces Number Of Public Meetings

Scottsdale Unified School District Reduces Number Of Public Meetings

By Corinne Murdock |

Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) voted Tuesday to halve its public meetings for the upcoming school year, reducing special meetings to every other month. The reduction results in a five-meeting difference from this year to the next. 

Superintendent Scott Menzel said that the changes arose after several board members had indicated that their meetings required more work than the board should have to handle, and that public meetings ran too long. Menzel said he initially opposed proposed reductions to the calendar. However, Menzel said he countered with the currently-adopted calendar: a “hybrid” solution that took away five public meetings.

“I didn’t think it would be possible to go to one meeting a month, for multiple reasons. One reason is that there are statutory deadlines that we would miss if we only had one meeting a month,” said Menzel.

Vice President Carine Werner opposed the measure. She said it saddened her that there were complaints from her fellow members about the amount of work they had to do, and that the proposed changes hurt transparency. Werner pointed out that they haven’t even discussed all of the work they needed to do under the current schedule with more meetings.

“I understand it’s a lot of work, but it’s also part of everyone’s jobs, just like it’s our jobs to be here to do the work that our governing board does,” said Werner. 

Transparency has been a hot-button issue for the SUSD community over the last few years. Just last summer, the district opted to publish the names of those who file public records requests, but redact educators’ names. The push for greater transparency has come in the wake of discoveries that SUSD allowed and defended educators promoting sexualized and race-focused agendas in the classroom. 

Werner added that she found it interesting that fellow board members wanted to reduce meetings, yet was willing to add meetings for the academy attended by administrators. 

“I can only imagine the amount of work that’s gone into creating the academy and then fulfilling the work for the 40 applicants that get elected to participate in the program,” said Werner.

Werner also noted that parents and community members had expressed grievances over the proposed calendar change. 

Board member Amy Carney pointed out that, by that point in Tuesday’s meeting, they’d been there two hours discussing key issues — an opportunity not possible in the adopted schedule with fewer meetings. 

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. I can’t understand how we can cut meetings,” said Carney. “One of the critical places for school boards to work, to retain informed trust of the communities is the conduct of meetings.”

Carney asked whether SUSD had ever cut meetings this drastically. Menzel said he wasn’t aware, deferring to Board President Julie Cieniawski. Cieniawski said that, in the past, the board had held more non-public meetings.

Cieniawski also claimed that the addition of town halls were sufficient for the reduction of public meetings. 

“This isn’t anyone’s voice being limited or taken away,” said Cieniawski. 

Cieniawski contended with Carney’s insistence that the changes would erode community trust, and claimed that community trust came from engagement with local schools, not the board. 

Carney attempted to respond to Cieniawski, who ignored and spoke over her and filed a motion to vote on the calendar. Board member Libby Hart-Wells, who appeared remotely for the meeting, seconded Cieniawski’s motion. 

Menzel said that regular meetings should concern core business of the district, and that this calendar would free up the board to voluntarily call special meetings with at least 24-hour notice to focus on specific issues as needed. Menzel noted that he didn’t believe special meetings should take place every month, either.

“I don’t see the calendar as taking away from being able to conduct the work of the district, I think it actually enhances and keeps us focused in a way that the current calendar drifted away from, with the way the schedule is at the present time,” said Menzel. 

Hart-Wells said she hadn’t heard any concerns from the community about the meeting restructuring. 

Arizona law only requires school boards to have a minimum of one meeting per month.

Watch discussion of the board meeting reduction here:

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to