How far should facial recognition technology go in K-12?

Schools enhance security with this controversial technology as research grapples with human rights concerns
By: | December 13, 2019
K-12 is seeing a rise in the use of facial recognition in schools even though the effectiveness of facial recognition software is in question.Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Update: An earlier version of this story mentioned the incorrect number from MIT Media Lab’s study. The correct percentage has been added.

More K-12 leaders are choosing to install facial recognition in schools despite public opposition and research that casts doubt on the technology’s effectiveness.

A study by the MIT Media Lab found that facial recognition software is inaccurate up to 34.4% of the time when scanning images of darker-skinned females.

 “With faulty facial recognition technology, children of color could soon find themselves forced to deal with a security guard or be singled out in other ways simply to go to school,” said Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization, on the topic of facial recognition in schools.

Regardless, board members at Lockport City School District in New York continue to fine tune their facial recognition system, WGRZ-TV reported. Members agreed not to place student images in its facial recognition database to comply with the State Education Department’s wishes, the district’s superintendent told the TV outlet.

Lockport began testing this technology more than a year ago to track sex offenders, suspended staff and other individuals who could pose a threat, Forbes reported. 

In Oklahoma, Putnam City School District recently completed a five-month pilot of their facial recognition software  that works with other security systems to quickly identify and isolate threats, reported Governing. “It’s been fairly well received by the public,” the district’s chief of police told the magazine.

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In Georgia, Fulton County Schools is adopting facial recognition software as part of a single-sign-on application that manages instructional resources and apps, District Administration reported earlier this year.

The district first conducted a pilot with staff members. “The entire process requires effort, but once we test technology in various settings of our district, then we proceed with the rollout,” Serena E. Sacks, chief information officer, told DA.

This summer, Texas City High School’s facial recognition system instantly identified an expelled student at a graduation ceremony after administrators had barred him from visiting any school campuses, Wired reported. Texas City ISD officials questioned and escorted the student from the stadium less than 30 seconds after he sat down, the district’s executive director of security told the outlet.

“Studies show that response time is critical in saving lives,” Michelle Bradley, superintendent of Lockport City School District recently told DA . “By being alerted that a potential threat may be in a building, problems can be more immediately addressed before they occur.”

Resources: Protecting Privacy—411 on facial recognition in schools

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