New York District to Begin Testing Facial Recognition System

New York District to Begin Testing Facial Recognition System

Next week, Lockport City School District will start testing its new facial and object recognition system, Superintendent Michelle Bradley announced Tuesday.

Next week, Lockport City School District will start testing its new facial and object recognition system, Superintendent Michelle Bradley announced Tuesday. The facial and object recognition cameras and software system—one of the first of its kind to be implemented in an American school—were installed this past September.

The district will begin the “initial implementation phase” on Monday, Bradley said. During this phase, the facial and object recognition system will be tested and any necessary adjustments will be made. Officials will check the camera angles and lighting and undergo training.

District officials will also work with local law enforcement to coordinate responses in the event the system detects a problem that requires an emergency alert.

“We’ll just work through those things,” Bradley said.

The district paid for the system, which relies on the SN Technologies Aegis software suite, with $1.4 million of the $4.2 million allocated to it via the New York Smart Schools Bond Act.

The Aegis software uses a database of individuals to alert district officials when a flagged person is detected on campus property. It can also reportedly detect 10 kinds of guns.

The software has received some criticism about privacy, but Bradley said the district has established boundaries for its use.

“I would say for the Lockport City School District, while it’s controversial, it’s not prohibited and the most important thing is we believe we’ve established boundaries in the use of this,” Bradley said. “We have a policy that intends to protect privacy. We have identified a small group of individuals who will be placed in a database.”

The Board of Education adopted a policy in December that outlines how the Aegis system will be used. According to the policy, those expected to be in the Aegis facial recognition database may include: students who have been suspended, staff placed on suspension or administrative leave, level 2 and level 3 sex offenders, any person who’s been notified that they are not allowed on district property, anyone prohibited by court order from entering district property or anyone believed to pose a threat.

Parents were notified of the plans to test the system in a letter.

According to district director of technology Robert LiPuma, only one test has been conducted so far, at the request of the Board of Education. The test was conducted with a trustee and a district teacher who are twins.

“We did have one incident where the board member came in and was identified on the first camera as the teacher and then it made a mistake, but it was an odd angle picture,” LiPuma said. “But the second camera picked her up as who she actually was. It was actually a good test for me.”

During this testing phase, LiPuma said that the district will add more people into the database, go through every single door to ensure an alert comes up on whoever is in the database and test multiple kinds of alerts. A gun alert is the only alert about which law enforcement would be notified, and LiPuma wants to have that coordinated with a test.

District administrators hope the system will help make Lockport schools safer and more secure. She added that school board members are looking at “the human side of violence” in schools.

“In addition to all these things that we’re doing to protect our buildings, we’re also providing the personnel to get into the minds of students and children,” Bradley said. “To help them manage trauma that they’ve been exposed to, to help them deal with difficult times they are having whether at home or in schools.”

Administrators aim to take the system live by the 2019-2020 school year.

“We’re not going to go live until we feel we can responsibly do that,” LiPuma said.

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