Lockport to test new school safety system next week

File photoLockport school officials say they will begin testing the district's new facial and object recognition system on Monday.  

The New York State Education Department is calling on the Lockport City School District to delay its planned implementation phase of its new facial and object recognition security surveillance program.

In a statement issued Thursday, a spokesperson said the state education department does not believe the Lockport district has the necessary regulations in place to start using its new facial recognition software. The spokesperson said officials from the state education department are continuing to evaluate the district's privacy assessment to "ensure that student data will be protected with the addition of the new technology."

According to the spokesperson, the department has not concluded that the district has demonstrated the "necessary framework is in place to protect the privacy of data subjects and properly secure data.

"As such, it is the department’s continued recommendation that the district delay its use of facial recognition technology," the spokesperson indicated.

The statement noted that in "past communication" state education officials recommended Lockport school representatives consider reviewing the "standard and related materials in developing and refining its data security and privacy program."

"We will remain in contact with school district officials," the spokesperson noted.

Lockport school district officials announced their intentions, on Tuesday, to begin the "initial implementation phase" for the system on Monday. The stage is supposed to involve testing the facial and object recognition system to make any necessary adjustments. District officials also plan to assess camera angles and lighting as well as perform some training.

The state education department said regulations are in the process of being finalized that will adopt a standard for data privacy and security for "all state educational entities."

On Tuesday, Lockport School District Superintendent Michelle Bradley said she made the state education department aware of the district's intentions earlier this month to start using the technology. She indicated that no one from department responded, so district officials felt there would be no issues.

Bradley did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday morning.

Jim Shultz, a persistent critic of the project, blasted the development on Thursday, asking "how many more huge mistakes can district officials make with their camera obsession?"

"They are directly disobeying the same state authorities who the district expects to pay for the system. The result of all this is going to be local taxpayers getting stuck for the $2.7 million they wasted on it. It’s mismanagement piled on top of mismanagement," Shultz added.

The district used $1.4 million of the $4.2 million allocated to it through New York’s Smart Schools Bond Act to install one of the first facial and object security surveillance systems in an American school. The district’s system will rely 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 when a flagged person is detected on school property. The software reportedly also will detect 10 types of guns.

The district’s security plan has attracted attention from the New York Civil Liberties Union, which last year sent a letter to the New York State Department of Education, asking officials there to halt the project. The NYCLU has also asked the state legislature to do the same.

State Assembly Member Monica Wallace has introduced a bill that, if passed, would effectively force Lockport to stop using the system. Her bill also asks the state education department to perform a study on facial recognition technology in schools.