Published on 16 March, 2006
Parents who want to pick up their kids at school in one New Jersey district now can submit to iris scans, as the technology that helps keep our nation's airports and hotels safe begins to make its way further into American lives.
The Freehold Borough School District launched this high-tech, high-wattage security system on Monday with funding from the Department of Justice as part of a study on the system's effectiveness. As many as four adults can be designated to pick up each child in the district, but in order to be authorized to come into school, they will be asked to register with the district's iris recognition security and visitor management system. At this point, the New Jersey program is not mandatory.
When picking up a child, the adult provides a driver's license and then submits to an eye scan. If the iris image camera recognizes his or her eyes, the door clicks open. If someone tries to slip in behind an authorized person, the system triggers a siren and red flashing lights in the front office. The entire process takes just seconds.
This kind of technology is already at work in airports around the country like Orlando International Airport, where the program, known as Clear, has been in operation since July. It has 12,000 subscribers who pay $79.95 for the convenience of submitting to iris scans rather than going through lengthy security checks. An iris scan is said to be more accurate than a fingerprint because it records 240 unique details — far more than the seven to 24 details that are analyzed in fingerprints. The odds of being misidentified by an iris scan are about one in 1.2 million and just one in 1.44 trillion if you scan both eyes. It's a kind of biometrics, the technique of identifying people based on parts of their body.
Phil Meara, Freehold's superintendent, said that although it was expensive, the program would help schools across the country move into a new frontier in child protection. "This is all part of a larger emphasis, here in New Jersey, on school safety," he said. "We chose this school because we were looking for a typical slightly urban school to launch the system."
Meara applied for a $369,000 grant on behalf of the school district and had the eye scanners installed in two grammar schools and one middle school. So far, 300 of the nearly 1,500 individuals available to pick up a student from school have registered for the eye scan system.
"The price tag was high really due to the research and program development," Meara said. "We're all aware that at that price, this system couldn't be duplicated at other schools. But most of the money paid for the development. So my prediction is that in the future, the price of this system will be much lower." Meara said they were trying to deny entry to anyone who wasn't permitted in the building and ensure that when an adult came to take a child out of school, he or she was who they said they were. Meara was also involved with a pilot program that took place in 2003, in Plumstead Township in New Egypt, N.J. The superintendent found that teachers and parents often held the door open for others as they entered the school, which allowed strangers to slip right in behind. This new eye scan system, however, catches strangers. Once the iris scanner permits an individual to enter the school, it monitors how many people pass through the door. "Biometrics is the wave of the future," Meara said. "Everything I've heard is that there will be a tremendous emphasis on making schools as safe as possible. If our school process [shows] that this system works, yes, it might just take off."