School Climate & Safety

Student ID Cards Sport New Digital Features

By Katie Ash — January 29, 2010 5 min read
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Student-identification cards have evolved relatively quickly from laminated badges with a student’s name and picture to all-purpose electronic cards that can now be used to check out library books, buy lunch, open lockers, and even track students’ comings and goings.

Because of the increased functionality of the cards, as well as administrators’ desire to improve student safety and security and build a more efficient school environment, identification cards are becoming a more important tool in many schools.

For example, at Philadelphia’s 750-student School of the Future, each student swipes a unique ID card when entering the building, buying lunch, and opening his or her locker.

“Each of these cards has a smart chip in them,” says Mary Cullinane, the director of innovation and business development for Microsoft Education, which helped design the school.

The $62 million School of the Future, created through a partnership between Microsoft and the Philadelphia school district, opened in 2006, but has struggled to achieve its goal of serving as a technology-rich model for what 21st-century high schools should look like. (“School of the Future,” this issue.)

That ID technology allows the card to store information about the student. And storing locker combinations and lunch money is just the beginning, says Cullinane. “[The technology] allows you to create a foundation so that more and more things can be coordinated using the card,” she says.

For example, it will be possible in the future for students to use their ID cards to keep track of how many calories they burn at the school’s cardiovascular-fitness center, Cullinane says, and then match that information with the calories consumed at lunch.

“It gives you a much more holistic view of the student,” she says.

Rick Lopez, an assistant principal at Valencia High School in Placentia, Calif., outside Los Angeles, says student ID cards have become an integral part of his school’s efforts to manage programs and services more efficiently.

“I really don’t know how we would monitor [all the different privileges] in an efficient way if we didn’t have [student IDs],” he says. “For us, from an efficiency standpoint, I wouldn’t do it any other way.”

Still, despite the digital improvements in ID cards and their ability to improve school procedures, some parents and privacy advocates are concerned that such cards can be used inappropriately. They worry that schools will go overboard in tracking students’ movements, personal preferences, and other matters.

“You have the privacy concerns that come with tracking,” says Jay Stanley, the public education director of the Technology and Liberty program at the New York City-based American Civil Liberties Union. “For example, what kinds of records are being kept on students, are those records much more granular in detail than they need to be, what’s going to be done with those records, and who are they going to be shared with?”

However, using student IDs to sign in and out of school electronically is not an objectionable violation of privacy, he says.

Tracking Attendance, Parking

Being able to follow students’ comings and goings can be an attractive feature of the ID systems.

In some districts, for instance, student ID cards are now being used to control school parking lots, says Holly Sacks, the senior vice president of global marketing and corporate strategy for the Irvine, Calif.-based HID Global, which provides access-control and identification-management equipment. Student drivers scan their IDs into machines at school parking lots much as adults do for access to employee parking garages.

“It can be quite helpful in making sure that you’ve got the people that you want in the parking lot,” says Sacks.

“[Student ID cards are] also very useful on the district bus system,” she says. “When students get on the bus and off the bus, there’s a record of where the child has been and where they were taken to.”

Many schools use the cards to help track attendance and tardiness, says Andrea Wilkins, the national sales manager for the K-12 market for Plasco ID, a Miami-based company that sells and installs identification products. Having students electronically swipe their cards when they are late for school is much faster than lining students up and writing tardy passes for each of them, says Wilkins.

Using such cards can help improve efficiency in the lunch line as well, says Bill Keyes, a spokesman for the Hampden, Mass.-based Rediker Software, which provides student-information-management software to schools.

In addition to keeping student accounts up to date and speeding up the lunch line, the ID cards can help reduce embarrassment for children who receive subsidized lunches, he says, since all children use the same cards regardless of payment status.

Hand-held card scanners are becoming increasingly popular, says Wilkins of Plasco ID. Administrators can now carry the scanners with them through the hallways when students are supposed to be in class and pull up information such as a student’s schedule—on any stragglers. Mobile scanners can also be taken on field trips to help keep track of students, she says.

Putting a student-ID system in place is not complicated, says David Murphy, the business-development manager for cards for Zebra Technologies, based in Lincolnshire, Ill. It involves buying the equipment—a card printer, ID-management software, a camera, and printing supplies—and installing the software on the school’s network.

It also helps that the price of printing the cards and buying the software to manage the system has come down in recent years, says Murphy. Depending on the size of the school, a modern student-ID system can cost from $2,000 to $4,000, he says.

Beyond price and technical concerns, schools should also be upfront with parents about why using student IDs is a good idea, says Wilkins.

There can be some pushback from parents when ID cards are first introduced, she says, especially with parents of younger students in elementary or middle school. They worry that their children will lose their cards, a concern especially—for safety reasons—if the youngsters’ names, pictures, and schools are printed on them.

“You definitely have to make sure parents understand why the school is doing it,” Wilkins says.

A version of this article appeared in the February 03, 2010 edition of Digital Directions as ID Required

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