The Case for Biometrics and Facial Recognition in School Districts

Written by Debbie Karcher

For many reasons school districts have been reluctant to adopt biometric and facial recognition to identify students, staff, parent and community members. The reasons are based on student privacy, civil liberties and long-term consequences of a breach. In this discussion biometrics and facial recognition are used for the sole purpose of identification authentication. Without moving forward with this technology school systems will become even more disadvantaged in terms of operational, efficiency and safety. This article discusses three main reason why school districts should adopt and use these technologies.

  1. Most people are already using biometrics or facial recognition to gain access to their devices
  2. District resources are spent on maintaining and supporting complex identification, authentication systems, and managing password systems
  3. Districts cannot move forward with systems that would make them more efficient

The first reason should be obvious. It would be interesting to know how many people who oppose using biometrics and facial recognition in schools use or  have children who use their finger or facial recognition on their phones and personal devices; or have signed waivers to use online sites and applications that allow the companies to use data that they obtain. The other question is how many of us are in the line of site of cameras and surveillance systems at our jobs, in stores, or while attending entertainment centers and sporting events. The point is that facial capture and probably recognition is taking place. But parents, and they should, hold schools to a higher standard. But this higher standard, without compromise, prevents districts from moving forward and having an advantage that other organizations already experience. The compromise is  using technology that provides additional protection (such as linking only to student id or complex encryption algorithms) that would make this possible.

Most identification and password management systems were developed between 2002 through 2010. For all practical purposes these are legacy systems that have been retrofitted to grow as the user base grew from only administrative employees, to teachers, to students, and community members. These additions added complexity to the already complex authentication and password systems that interface to active directories so that the appropriate people had personalized access to appropriate systems. As the number of users increased the support needed to manage these systems has also increased.

Password management continues to be the number one help desk ticket in many districts, especially with the addition of students. This has a lot to do with the school year cycle. There are enough breaks and time off that people forget their passwords after periods of non-use. The amount of time spent by support personnel and instructional time taken to get teachers and students access to systems is significant. This is even with a Password Management System. My experience with students (who seem to remember complex passwords to their gaming systems but cannot remember their school password) is sometimes a way to delay testing and school work. But whatever the reason, how simple and fast, it would be if students and teachers could use either finger or facial recognition to secure their password.

One of the first things we wanted parents to do when we developed the parent portal was to have the ability to complete forms online that were normally sent home at the beginning and throughout the year. It did not take long until our very astute students were able to break into their parents’ accounts and start changing critical information. This was back in 2004. Because of the district’s duty of care and need to know  that the parent logging on was the true custodial parent we had to remove the ability to change forms and change our process for parents to get an account; requiring a physical visit to their children’s schools.

Not much has changed since that time because,  biometric technology up until the past few years, was very expensive and districts did not have the software or hardware to use facial or biometric recognition technology. This left only dual authentication using email and text messages for code verification or a notification that the accounts was changed or accessed.  But we still do not know if it is the parent, child or some unauthorized person that is using the account and devices. Therefore, the only way to move forward is to begin developing systems that will allow for alternate methods of identification. The consequences and lost opportunities when  districts do not adopt this technology will result in the following:

  1. Continue to have processes that require paper forms and manual input by school employees, parents, and students
  2. Inability to reduce operating costs because processes cannot be automated
  3. Continue to use valuable instruction time to manage passwords and system access
  4. Inability to add safety standards that are only available with biometric technology

It is time for  school districts and their technology partners to develop strategies that will allow the use of biometrics  without compromising our students’ safety and privacy. Future \ articles will examine the many opportunities available when schools and systems can take advantage of all new technology such as the online completion of forms, automated student attendance, transportation and payments systems.