One Lockport City School District school board trustee is calling on the state to refund Lockport's Smart Schools funds, arguing that the state's reversal on the district's facial and object recognition software has left Lockport with a system it cannot use as it intended.
In an interview with the Union-Sun & Journal, Kyle Lambalzer said he feels the New York State Education Department did not properly vet the district's Smart Schools Bond Act project when it initially approved the project before saying students couldn't be included in the system.
"What frustrates me most as a parent is, the state of New York says yes two years ago, and now it appears if they more or less say no. That's a very frustrating thing. I've always thought personally that this money could have been better spent any other number of ways," Lambalzer said. "And now, it looks as if we're not going to get even what we spent all this money ... It seems like the state is telling us that we can detect guns and sex offenders and little else."
Lambalzer said if the state was concerned about the technology it should have said no when it was asked to deny or approve the SSBA project.
"I don't feel personally that they looked into the technology. It was supposedly cutting-edge two years ago. Who approved this? Did they understand it? And did they understand the firestorm that would come? I think Lockport would have been better off two years ago with a no from the state, rather than two years later getting a no. If we had gotten a no two years ago, we could have diverted this money somewhere else," Lambalzer said.
Lambalzer, who was not a board member during the time the system was proposed, observed that other school districts are taking advantage of the technology they got from the SSBA.
"Williamsville, Clarence, Sweet Home they've all spent the money differently. They are all reaping the benefits of that money and my kids are not. And let me tell you, our taxes are too high not to take advantage of money like this. And it languishes in a system that's going to be put to use so differently than was advertised two years ago. And I can't tell you how frustrating that it is," Lambalzer said.
Last year, Assembly Member Monica Wallace, D-Lancaster, introduced a bill that would impose a moratorium on facial recognition in schools until 2022 for the state education department to further study the issue. It passed the state assembly, but the companion bill was not voted on in the senate.
Lambalzer said he "fully" believes the bill will become law this year.
"Then we're frozen out," he added.
Lambalzer would like Lockport to get a "do-over" to go toward technology that the state education department approves completely of.
"I don't think the students of the Lockport district should be made to pay a price because a state bureaucrat can't get the job done," Lambalzer added.
Lockport's Smart School Bond Act project, which includes the controversial facial and object recognition software, was approved by the state in November 2017. But, when Lockport announced it was going to start testing the software, the state education department told Lockport it had concerns over the ability to place students in the database. This resulted in the Lockport school board changing the policy to say students will never be put in the database.
The district spent $1.4 million of the $4.2 million allocated to it through the New York’s Smart Schools Bond Act to acquire and install one the systems, one of the first of its kind in an American school. The system relies on the Aegis software suite created by Canadian-based SN Technologies.
The facial recognition software works by using a database of flagged individuals and sending an alert to district personnel when a flagged person is detected on school property. The object recognition feature would reportedly detect 10 types of guns and alert certain district personnel, as well as law enforcement, if a weapon is detected.