US schools increasingly turn to facial recognition in search of safety
Schools in Montana are using facial recognition from Verkada in an attempt to improve safety, though officials are unsure how many, the Daily Montanan reports. The article suggests up to 30 schools could be using the technology, but the specific number is unknown.
Sun River Valley School District was recently revealed by Montana Public Radio to have been using facial recognition for the last two years. The technology was deployed in elementary, middle and high schools.
The biometric system is fed a watchlist from the local Sherriff’s Department, as well as yearbook photos of students, according to the MTPR report. Superintendent David Marzolf said the system also provides an alert if a parent who does not have custody of a child is on the premises. He also said the system can only be viewed by himself and two principles in the district.
School Administrators of Montana Executive Director Rob Watson said at a meeting that up to 35 school districts in the state may have contracts with Verkada. It is possible, if not likely, that some have contracted surveillance camera technology without facial recognition, however.
Live feeds of surveillance cameras were exposed in a hack on Verkada last year.
“With regard to facial recognition technology, it’s an emerging issue that my peers around the country and other state associations serving school boards are beginning to understand and take notice of, similar to the members of the committee this interim,” says Kris Goss, a Montana School Boards Association attorney.
Goss points out that companies offering facial recognition technology in the state’s schools must follow the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Child Information Privacy Act, and the Montana Pupil Online Personal Information Protection Act.
Meanwhile in Greenwood, Indiana, Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation is adding facial recognition to cameras in its schools, according to CBS4.
The district has hundreds of cameras in schools, and plans to spend funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to implement a range of security measures. Those appear to include computer vision AI to detect events from fights to vaping, based on the comments of Superintendent Patrick Spray.
Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers cited the mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas in May as motivation for directing the funds towards school safety.
The same trend has been seen elsewhere in the U.S. and other countries around the world, but a UK report earlier this year posed questions about data protection and the trustworthiness of technology partners. Critics also contend that regulation, and even best practices, often lag behind deployments.