In their latest attempt to use technology to keep New Canaan students safe and save the district money, town school officials say they're looking into a monitoring system that could provide real-time data about students' whereabouts.
A so-called "Radio Frequency Identification", or "RFID" system uses radio waves and can be embedded into objects such as student ID cards, allowing monitors to see when carriers – in this case students – pass a designated point where the RFID tag is registered.
Board of Education Chair Nick Williams said the primary use of RFID would be student safety.
"We have an open campus," he said. "God forbid if there's an incident in the school…it lets you know who is in the school and who is not."
Officials say the possibility of using RFID in New Canaan's school system was introduced at this month's Board of Education meeting by Louis Parks, CEO of SecureRF, a Westport-based security company. Parks is proposing a test program to the National Science Foundation and applying for a $100,000 grant from NSF. As a condition of the grant application, Parks needs to conduct a pilot program in an existing school system. SecureRF did not return calls seeking comment.
Roy Walder, transportation director for the school system, said he was intrigued by the idea of becoming a part of the pilot project when he met Parks prior to the board meeting.
"There's an existing technology that has proven to be very effective," Walder said. "We're trying to look at the authentication and the privacy aspect of using this existing technology. How do we protect the data? How do we keep someone from accessing and changing the data? The NSF has said they would be willing to pay up to $100,000 for equipment, software and development to get this test in place and to run the test."
Participation in the program by students would be voluntary, school officials say.
Other possible uses for the technology include tracking bus ridership and locating where students are in a building during an emergency.
Privacy of RFID is a major concern, according to Assistant Superintendent of Schools Steven Swerdlick.
"We will have to be thoroughly satisfied there is no negative impact on privacy and safety," he said. "We need to find out how it would impact the schools and kids. No decision has been made about whether it makes sense for us. Or if it makes sense for us."
Walder said the board likely will make no decisions before next spring.
"If it doesn't work, that'd be good to know," Walder said said. "And if it does, being in a partnership might give us the opportunity to purchase equipment at a reduced cost in the future."