Lockport City School District administrators announced this week that the district plans to move forward with its Aegis surveillance system, but only as an object recognition system at the moment.
Robert LiPuma, the district technology director, said the object recognition software is targeted to go live on Nov. 25 if everything goes as planned, but he noted that date could change. The object recognition software will reportedly detect 10 types of guns and alert certain district personnel, as well as law enforcement, if a gun is detected.
LiPuma noted some testing is still necessary before the object recognition software goes live.
He said construction over the summer created a setback, but a camera audit has been completed. It was found that two buildings were not communicating with Aegis, but he does not expect fixing this to take much time.
LiPuma added that he is currently working with Lockport Police Department to configure the IamResponding system and how it will interact with Aegis if a weapon is detected on district property.
"They (Lockport Police Department) are very receptive of setting that up," LiPuma said.
School trustee Kyle Lambalzer raised the question of the district crossing law enforcement jurisdictional lines, as George Southard Elementary School is in the town of Lockport.
Trustee Thomas Fiegl, a retired LPD officer, said LPD would probably respond under mutual aid, especially if a gun threat was detected.
Lambalzer also asked whether the district had received approval from the New York State Education Department, which has repeatedly issued statements directing the district to not use the facial recognition portion of Aegis.
"I just don't want them to knee jerk in three days, and put out a press release again that says something like we told them not to do anything," Lambalzer said.
Superintendent Michelle Bradley said she had informed NYSED in late August about the district's intention to use the object recognition software only, and has not heard back from the department.
After district officials announced their intention to start testing the software in June, they were told by state education officials to stop until further notice. At that time, Bradley had also said NYSED was informed of the plan and did not respond.
State Assembly Member Monica Wallace has introduced a bill that would impose a moratorium on facial recognition-based surveillance and direct the state education department to study the issue further. The bill passed the assembly, but was not acted on in the senate before the legislative session ended in June.
Asked whether NYSED approves of the district using only the object recognition software, a spokesperson said "the department is currently reviewing correspondence from the Lockport City School District regarding this matter."
Stefanie Coyle, deputy director of the Education Policy Center at New York Civil Liberties Union, criticized the district for going forward with the object recognition software, arguing that it is "playing a dangerous game with advance surveillance."
"Given the district’s reckless behavior to date in rolling out school surveillance, we have no assurances or confidence that object recognition won’t open the gate for facial tracking or other biometric surveillance," Coyle wrote. "Advanced surveillance is discriminatory and unethical no matter what, and the district should abide by the New York State Department of Education’s call to leave these cameras off."
The district used $1.4 million of the $4.2 million allocated to it through New York’s Smart Schools Bond Act to acquire and install one of the first facial and object recognition security systems 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.