By MATT RICHTEL
SPRING, Tex. - In front of her gated apartment complex, Courtney
Payne, a 9-year-old fourth grader with dark hair pulled tightly into a
ponytail, exits a yellow school bus. Moments later, her movement is
observed by Alan Bragg, the local police chief, standing in a
windowless control room more than a mile away.
Chief Bragg is not using video surveillance. Rather, he watches an
icon on a computer screen. The icon marks the spot on a map where
Courtney got off the bus, and, on a larger level, it represents the
latest in the convergence of technology and student security.
Hoping to prevent the loss of a child through kidnapping or more
innocent circumstances, a few schools have begun monitoring student
arrivals and departures using technology similar to that used to track
livestock and pallets of retail shipments.
Here in a growing middle- and working-class suburb just north of
Houston, the effort is undergoing its most ambitious test. The Spring
Independent School District is equipping 28,000 students with ID
badges containing computer chips that are read when the students get
on and off school buses. The information is fed automatically by
wireless phone to the police and school administrators.
In a variation on the concept, a Phoenix school district in November
is starting a project using fingerprint technology to track when and
where students get on and off buses. Last year, a charter school in
Buffalo began automating attendance counts with computerized ID badges
-- one of the earliest examples of what educators said could become a