What You Need To Know
Schools keep close track of students with proper identification
- By Maged Atiya
- Jan 01, 2017
Being in school every day is vital for a student’s success, and with state funding associated with attendance, it is also vital that school districts keep close track of when students are in school and when they are not.
Many districts have discovered that implementing such a system is
well worth the commitment and investment, and others are finding
that it’s time to upgrade what they already have.
There are a number of important factors to consider when you’re
shopping around for an ID Card vendor/partner; here are some key
elements to think about:
DUMB CARDS OR SMART CARDS?
What do you want your card to do, how much functionality do you need,
how secure must it be and how fast does the card need to be read?
Dumb cards. These are cards with a magnetic stripe or bar code on
them that usually do only simple things: they can open a door, or pull
up a food service or library account. Staff members typically swipe
these cards to enter a building, which is easy enough to do. However,
the wear and tear of swiping reduces the card’s lifespan, and the swipe
action is time consuming and cumbersome. Imagine how slow it could
be for a student trying to register their attendance one at a time with a
Smart cards. These cards provide a host of options. They are contactless
and use RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology;
students tap their cards onto a reader and they are logged in, quickly
and easily. Readers can be installed on buses, in the classroom, in the
cafeteria, in the gym, or in the auditorium, so it makes tracking students
extremely efficient. In fact, some configurations can process a
thousand students in just minutes.
Smart cards are coded with a unique ID number that is assigned to
one individual; it’s the back-end computer that maintains all the information
on that person. This means that additional functionality can be
added quickly, all at once, at any time, on the base computer. School
districts can start with a straightforward ID system, and add features
at a later date when budgets or needs change.
Some smart card companies can interact with legacy card programs—
those ID card systems that are already in a school district. So
the upgrade to smart technologies doesn’t always mean the existing
service cannot be used.
TO CLOUD OR NOT TO CLOUD
We hear all about the cloud, and we know it’s important, but do you
need a cloud-based ID Card System?
In a non-cloud-based system, your data resides in a server (essentially
a computer) somewhere in your school district. It is maintained
by your IT department, and if you needed to expand your memory or
upgrade your processing speed, then the district would buy a new, bigger
computer. Some districts might want to have one computer dedicated
in each school.
If you want to upgrade functionality or software, your IT person has
to go from school to school and manage each computer. And if there
was a flood, fire, system crash, security breach or other natural disaster,
all of your data could be lost and you’d have to start from scratch.
Maintaining a traditional land-based system like this can be very costly—
in time as well as in money spent.
Cloud computing means that your data resides virtually, in off-site
servers, with backup systems in place, so if something happens, your data
is safe and always available. Improvements are also very simple: because
the program resides in one place, it has to be upgraded in only one place,
and added functionality can be transferred to every school instantly. This
service-based process is more streamlined and cost effective.
Cloud services offer significant advantages, but make sure that your vendor/partner uses the highest level of data security available. There
are international security standards (PCI, FISMA, SSAE16, to be specific),
that are used by banks, credit card companies, hospitals and
others, so look for them in your cloud-based ID Card System, too.
Sadly, it seems like we hear about school lock downs on a weekly basis.
ID Card Systems can certainly help keep your buildings more secure,
but there’s more to it than just knowing who came in the front door.
- When there’s an emergency, look for an ID Card System that can
make sure that:All doors in a building or across the district can be locked down
with a single command, which can be issued from any wireless
device or any computer. This immediacy improves time to action
and can save lives.
- An accurate location report is available on a tablet or computer that
shows which staff members and students used their card for attendance
and therefore can be identified in the building, in a specific
room, which can help first responders react fast.
To automate the process even more effectively, some districts provide
their local police and fire departments with precinct- or school-specific
ID Cards that allow them immediate access into school buildings.
ACTIVE OR PASSIVE RFID
School districts have to strike a delicate balance between protecting
students when they are on campus, and protecting a student’s right to
privacy. You can defend yourself from litigation by making sure your
RFID-based ID card system is passive, and not active. You can save
yourself some money, too.
Usually battery-powered, Active RFID tags have a transmitter and
their own power source which is used to run the card’s microchip circuitry
and to broadcast a signal to a reader (the way a cell phone transmits
signals to a base station). This allows a student’s or teacher’s card
to be read at any time. The card can be hanging around a person’s neck,
held onto his or her belt loop or in their backpack, and the reader can
pick up its signal, as long as it is within a particular range.
Because the card transmits data, badge holders can be tracked and
found anywhere, at any time. And while this is an enticing scenario,
there are legal limits on what constitutes a person’s right to location
privacy. Also Active RFID cards require a battery and are heavier, more
expensive and need significantly more maintenance.
Passive tags have no battery. Instead, they draw power from the
reader, and require a student to take an action, like tapping it on a
screen, for the card to be read. This process makes it very easy to track
where students are, and you can get an accurate count of how many
students (or teachers, or staff) have checked in at any particular time.
However, because it is a passive process, these ID cards do not infringe
on privacy. Passive cards are less expensive and last longer, hence they
have lower overall cost. Their form factor is identical to standard cards,
making adoption easier, too.
EASE OF INSTALLATION
Implementing any new technology can be a hassle, and it’s an administrator’s
duty to keep processes as efficient as possible. So make sure
that your new ID card system is easy to install. Is it an all-in-one, plugand-
play product, or do you have to buy different components and put
them all together yourself? Are the cards easy to print and distribute,
or do you have to go through a complicated printing process? Does the
system integrate easily with any ID Card System you currently have in
place? Are the cards easy to use? These are important questions to ask
before you implement a new system.
Technology advances with ID card systems can make a host of administrative
processes easier and more efficient. Here are just a few examples
of what’s already happening in school districts across the country.
Attendance. An automated ID card system that generates a list of
late/absent children; the parents of those children are then called by an
automated system that reports them as absent, making the process
more streamlined so office staff can focus on other tasks.
Classroom. Students tap their cards upon entering a classroom, so
teachers don’t have to take attendance and substitutes always have an
accurate count. Children tap out if they leave the class early and tap
into the main office, nurse or guidance office, which makes student
movement easy to track.
Visitor management. When a visitor arrives, there are visitor management
modules that determine if he or she has been to the school
before. If they have, a card can be printed; if they aren’t in the database,
the system determines if there are any district-defined exclusionary
alerts regarding the person, at the same time checking for a match
against the sexual offender database. An automatic alert is sent to the
district, making the school even more secure.
Location and time clock management. Staff members use their ID
cards to open locked doors to enter school buildings or portable classrooms.
Students with disabilities or injuries use their cards to access
building elevators. Facility staff members use time clock kiosks to sign
in and out of work, which keeps track of their time spent, their current
location, and any overtime hours they work.
Students. ID cards are used at cafeteria registers and libraries to
check out books. The database carries personal schedule information,
and cards are checked by hall monitors using mobile devices to verify
that students are going to the correct class for the proper period.
Accountability and control. ID Cards are tapped for events that
take place in buildings after school and/or at night. Students tap in to
attend a sporting event, dance, concert or any other school-sponsored
program, which adds accountability and control to event administrators
and lets them know who is in the venue for that event.
Affordability. ID Cards are fairly inexpensive to issue, and some
vendors have government contract status that ensures the best price.
Also, in some states, a percentage of the purchase in the form of aid to
the district is returned on an annual basis.
It’s important to plan ahead. With the pace of technology advances,
make sure you find a partner that understands the needs you have
today, what you might want in the future, and
how you can plan to get there. And now that
you’re armed with these important ideas, you
can find an ID Card System that does everything
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Security Today.