Magazine Article | January 1, 1999

Integrated ID System Receives Passing Grade In Education Market

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Florida High School uses bar codes coupled with photo ID badges to monitor security, attendance and overdue books.

Integrated Solutions, January-February 1999
With 2,000 students at Northeast High School in Oakland Park, FL, sometimes it's hard to tell who's a student and who doesn't belong on campus. To tighten security, the school hired Plasco, Inc. - a Miami Lakes, FL, VAR - to install a digital photo identification system. Now, students wear ID badges throughout the year.

"We were looking for a multi-purpose product," said Chris McCann, Northeast High School media specialist. "First, we wanted to have bar-code identification to fit in with our current media center checkout. Second, we wanted to make our campus more secure than it was before. We have never had a security incident, and we want to keep it that way."

Northeast High School has a reputation in Broward County of being a leader in technology, said Andrea Vogt, Plasco sales manager. Northeast was introduced to the system through a mailer Vogt sent to area principals. It included a sample ID card and a list of card applications that schools could take advantage of with a mag stripe or a bar code, or just a visible ID card.

Keeping Track Of Students And Books
Each ID card has a large photo of a student with his or her name, along with the school's logo and address on the front. The back of the card contains a bar code and the card's expiration date. It also has a disclaimer, citing the cost of a replacement card if students lose or damage their IDs. The cards can be worn on lanyards or thin chains around the neck.

"We explained to our students that there's a good chance they'll wear a similar badge when they enter the workforce," said McCann. "Many professions, such as the medical field, require badges to be worn at all times." The Plasco system consists of a Fargo Electronics Pro L color thermal printer with a magnetic stripe encoder, EPIsuite software from G & A Imaging, and an Olympus digital camera. Symbol Technologies bar-code readers were already in place in the school's media center for checking out books and other materials.

Right now, explained McCann, the bar codes are used for checking out library books and as an attendance tracker. When a student checks out a book from the media center, an employee scans the bar code on the material and on the back of the student's ID card with a handheld scanner.

It also speeds up signing in and out of school if a student is late or needs to leave early. A school secretary can enter the attendance database on a PC and swipe a student's card with a bar-code wand from Compsee. Immediately, the secretary knows the student's name, grade, class schedule and attendance history. Secretaries also know immediately if students have permission to leave school.

The cards have also helped faculty discipline students since the school is so large. "If a teacher has a problem with a student," explained McCann, "the teacher often takes the student's ID card to the office so the administration knows exactly which student is causing trouble." Bar coding was the most logical data capture method since it was already in use at the school. "In the very near future," said Vogt, "schools will use mag stripe and smart-card technology to track attendance and cafeteria purchases." Smart cards have built-in microprocessors and memory that can be used as an ID or financial transaction card.

IDs Become A Necessity For Students
Results have been positive, said McCann. "We assigned cards during the end of the 1997-98 school year to get students used to the idea of wearing the badges," he said. "This year, students asked for their IDs as early as possible because they needed a photo ID or could use the card to get student discounts at some stores." Vogt estimates the system has been installed in at least 35 other area schools.

Working Out Any Glitches
"To create the cards, we downloaded student information from Broward County's student database and uploaded it into the EPIsuite database," he explained. "This eliminated typing in each student's information." The most challenging aspect, according to McCann, was taking each student's picture the first time around. For the second round of cards, Northeast used a CD provided by the school photographer with digital images of each student. Pictures were taken and cards were distributed by homerooms. Additional photos had to be taken of students who did not get their class pictures taken.

"This year, we were able to work with school photographers," said Vogt. "The photo CD they can provide downloads student photos directly into the EPISuite Software. This eliminates a lot of work for the person in charge of producing the student ID cards."

Plans For Future Students
Northeast High School and Plasco see a variety of applications for the card in the future. "Eventually, we plan on switching to mag stripes for use in our cafeteria," said McCann.

A lot of the schools in the Miami and Ft. Lauderdale area have free- or reduced-lunch programs. Broward County gives qualifying students PIN numbers, which they type in at the checkout. Mag stripe readers would speed up the lunch line and eliminate the ability for someone to steal a student's PIN number. Since mag stripes have multiple tracks to store information, the ID card could still be used in the media center.

Other possible uses include placing money on the card like a debit card. Mag stripes could also deny access to students who don't have parental permission to be online, since the district has an "exceptional-use" policy for Internet access.