NCR - Digital-First Banking Tracker - September 2023 Banner

Real-Time Biometric Attendance Trackers Spark Student Safety Concerns

students, schools, biometrics, safety

The increasing attacks on educational institutions, especially in the U.S., has prompted a pressing need for robust security measures to safeguard school campuses. 

In response to this sobering reality, institutions are increasingly turning to advanced technologies and automation to enhance the resilience of their “connected campus” environments, as outlined in “The Automated Campus: Enabling the Future of Higher Education,” a PYMNTS Intelligence and American Express collaboration. 

This involves migrating network infrastructure to more secure providers and implementing enhanced student tracking systems. These measures enable institutions to promptly notify individuals of potential physical threats and respond more effectively to emergencies in real time.

For instance, Central Michigan University (CMU) has implemented electronic access controls on campus as part of security upgrades, which, according to the school, allows the CMU Police Department to remotely secure exterior doors during emergencies.

Other institutions, like Winton Woods City Schools in the Ohio School District, have turned to biometric authentication to bolster security and ensure a safe learning environment for all students and staff. 

Earlier this week, it was reported that the institution has adopted biometric safety boxes in a push to boost school safety and counter potential school shootings or other violent incidents. 

The fingerprint-activated safety boxes, currently mounted on walls at selected middle and high school facilities in the district, provide rapid access to essential emergency supplies, including trauma kits, gel pepper spray, safety vests, flex cuffs and high-intensity strobe flashlights.

Additionally, once a registered fingerprint opens the box, it triggers a district-wide alert system that not only initiates lockdown procedures, but also alerts a nationwide monitoring company and notifies law enforcement officials of the exact location of the incident. 

“We wanted to make sure that we had something in place in the event that there was a disaster,” Superintendent Anthony Smith said in the Feb. 5 report. “We want to make sure that this is insurance that you never ever have to use.”

In July of last year, the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina undertook a similar step to enhance the safety of students, faculty and staff by installing biometric gun safes across all 18 schools within the district, including three high schools, three middle schools and ten elementary schools.

Tracking Students’ Movements in Real-Time

Joining the wave of biometric adoptions, a public high school in Maine is gearing up to implement biometric surveillance technology for monitoring student attendance this year. 

According to a Jan. 24 letter addressed to parents and guardians of Caribou High School students, the new system will not only to track attendance but also bolster overall security by ensuring precise records of individuals entering and exiting the school grounds. 

Despite these assurances, a recent report from MaineWire has highlighted parental concerns and skepticism regarding the implementation of biometric surveillance programs in schools, with fear partly stemming from the potential vulnerability of vast amounts of student data to hackers.

Acknowledging such concerns, Caribou school principal Jamie Selfridge reassured recipients of the letter that “the new software adheres to strict privacy guidelines, and it will only be used for attendance purposes within our school environment.” 

These discussions unfold against a backdrop of growing concerns regarding data security, privacy and the ethical implications of biometric surveillance in recent years. 

Notably, a report released by New York State in August revealed widespread opposition among school personnel to the adoption of facial recognition and other biometric technologies in educational settings.

“Educational researchers point out that reliance on technology to secure schools can lull administrators and staff into a false sense of security when what is really needed is face-to-face interaction with students who may be in crisis,” the New York state report noted.