Lockport district won't use software during security system tests

The Associated PressThis file photo from December shows Lockport City School District technology director Robert LiPuma as he stands in a doorway beneath a camera with facial recognition capabilities that was being installed in Lockport High School. On Friday, the New York State Department of Education announced that the district will move forward with testing of some system components next week, however the tests will not involve use of related software as recommended by state officials. 

Officials in Lockport City School District have agreed to honor the New York State Education Department's request to delay testing of the district's new facial and object recognition system. 

"The district has assured us no facial recognition software will be used next week while it tests other components of the system," a spokesman for the state education department said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "NYSED staff will visit the district to learn about the district’s system."

Earlier this week, district officials had announced their intention to begin the "initial implementation phase" for the system on Monday. The process was expected to include assessing camera angles and lighting as well as performing some training. With the announced cancellation of testing of the facial and object recognition software, it's unclear what work the district will begin to do next week.  

On Friday, Robert LiPuma, district director of technology, issued a statement to Buzzfeed News, which was posted on Twitter, saying that LCSD will start testing on Monday. 

LiPuma said state education representatives communicated to the district that the Aegis system should not become operational until the completion of talks between the parties "with regard to student data security and privacy."

"However, the district’s initial implementation phase of the system (which will commence June 3, 2019 and continue through August 31, 2019) will not include any student data being entered into the system database or generated by the system," LiPuma's statement indicated. "Instead, this phase will involve system testing to allow the district to further refine system operations, and also allow for training of staff on the system, adjustments to security camera placement to optimize system effectiveness, and coordination with law enforcement authorities on alert procedures if a gun is detected."

LiPuma said the district looks forward to continuing its dialogue with the state education department on implementation and the district is confident that its operations of the Aegis system will be fully compliant with all applicable laws and regulations. 

"The district is also confident that its adopted policy and procedures on implementation of the system will protect student data privacy while further protecting the security of all district students, staff and visitors," he added. 

LiPuma noted that the project was approved by the New York State Smart Schools Review Board in November 2017, in conjunction with NYSED's approval that same month of the district's capital project through which the system is being implemented. 

LiPuma said it's important to understand what the Aegis "does and doesn't do."

He said it does not compile information on and track the movements of all district students, staff and visitors, but instead identifies any individual whose picture has been entered into the system database, which will include a set group of identified people. Individuals entered into the system will include suspended students or staff, level 2 and level 3 sex offenders, any person barred by court order from entering district property and any other individuals determined by the district to present a threat based on credible information. 

The system will issue an alert when it identifies any such individual on district property, and that alert is then subject to at least two levels of immediate verification by district staff before action is taken in response to the alert, LiPuma said.

On Thursday, NYSED issued two statements, the second of which clearly spelled out its disapproval of the school district's desire to start testing the system. First, a spokesperson said the department doesn't believe LCSD has the necessary regulations in place to start using the new facial recognition software.  Then, in a second statement, state ed said it does not approve of Lockport's system being tested.

LiPuma's statement comes after school Superintendent Michelle Bradley issued a statement to the US&J Friday morning that expressed the district's plans to "continue to engage in dialogue and cooperate" with NYSED to address the concern relating to student information.

"We take this matter very seriously," Bradley said.

The school district used $1.4 million of $4.2 million allocated to it through New York’s Smart Schools Bond Act to acquire and install what is being marketed as the first facial and object security surveillance system in a school in the United States. The system relies on the Aegis software suite, created by Canadian-based SN Technologies. The software works by using a database of individuals and sending an alert to district personnel any time a flagged person is detected on school property. The software reportedly also can detect 10 types of guns.