In an effort to improve security and make staff members feel safer, more schools, like the St. Therese Catholic Academy in Seattle, are turning to high-tech security solutions including facial recognition software, EdSurge reports. The education sector spent about $2.7 billion on security equipment and services in 2017, according to IHS Markit, a market research firm.
Software firm RealNetworks offered last year to provide its facial recognition technology to K-12 schools in the United States and Canada for free, though most schools will have to spend thousands to upgrade technology to support it. So far, about a dozen schools and districts — including St. Therese — have embraced the software.
- At St. Therese, the technology has only put staff members' faces — not students' — in the system, and while it monitors who comes in or out of the building, it's mainly effective in specific cases, such as identifying “known threats," EdSurge reports. However, critics warn that the system is only as valuable as the measures used to update and support it, and that staff members can rely too much on the tech and become less vigilant in the long run.
School security has become an increasingly important issue in recent years as incidents of school violence have increased significantly, gaining national and international attention as a result. While school leaders work to protect students and calm parents' and staff members' fears, members of the school community are looking to increased security measures to prevent threats from getting into school buildings.
However, there is also a growing concern about what these efforts mean in the context of creating a positive school climate. Prisons are among the most secure places in the nation, but turning a school into a prison-like environment is not necessarily conducive to learning. The use of armed security officers, metal detectors and facial recognition software may help prevent threats, but it also can create an atmosphere of fear, discomfort and intimidation. Some critics also fear that it may exacerbate the “school-to-prison” pipeline.
In cases such as at St. Therese, facial recognition software is only used to identify staff members and, in some cases, other adults who enter on a regular basis. At the same time, many schools have not expanded their databases to enter students into the system — a measure that would be expensive, time-consuming and could open up a host of privacy concerns. Yet, in some of the most devastating school violence incidents, students were the security threats.
While some measures to protect students, like increased monitoring, are well-intentioned, many of the threats that happen on school grounds are related to bullying or mental health issues and can't be solved with facial recognition. A report released in December by the Federal Commission on School Safety stressed the importance of providing more mental health services at schools as one of the strongest factors in school safety. While school leaders examine the high-tech outward trimmings that many people think of as school safety measures, they need to also consider the need for stronger mental health supports.