BARTOW, Fla. – Officials in the Polk County school district suspended a controversial student iris scanning program after parents realized their children were being scanned without their knowledge.
An unknown number of students who take the bus to three Polk County schools – Daniel Jenkins Academy, Beplune Academy, and Davenport School for the Arts – were subjected to iris scans by Stanley Convergent Security Solutions just before the Memorial Day break as part of a “pilot security program,” according to reports by Michelle Malkin and Floridians Against Common Core.
The school district sent a letter to parents detailing the program and offering them an opportunity to opt their children out of the program – on May 23, after they already conducted the initial scans.
“The program is called EyeSwipe-Nano. It’s a safe, non-invasive iris reader. It simply takes a picture of the iris, which is unique to every individual. The EyeSwipe-Nano is an ideal replacement for the card based system since your child will not have to be responsible for carrying an identification card.
“With this program, we will be able to identify when and where a student gets on the bus, when they arrive at their school location, when and what bus the student boards and disembarks in the afternoon. This is an effort to further enhance the safety of our students.”
Davis told Malkin the district’s failure to notify parents earlier, and the blatant violation of students’ privacy, “is a mistake on our part.” A letter was supposed to be sent to parents May 17, but a secretary had a “medical emergency,” Davis said.
A parent first exposed the issue on Facebook and it’s quickly gained the attention of education reform activists, particularly those concerned with the student databases that will be developed as part of the national Common Core education standards.
The situation raises some obvious questions:
What did the school district plan to do with the data it collected? Who would have access to the iris scans? Why does the district need to track students’ movements in such detail? Has the district had problems with losing students who ride the bus? Will district officials forward student information gathered by the “pilot security program” to the state or federal government? What happens to the scans of students who decide to opt out?
Unfortunately, Davis didn’t return a message left by EAGnews for comment.
One vigilant parent, however, did manage to get some answers, and may have been instrumental in the district’s decision to can the program.
“I have been in touch with the principal at my son’s school this morning regarding the iris scans. She verified everything my son told me, she says the scans were completed on May 22. She said that she was following instructions from the Polk County School Board (PCSB), and that she knew very little, if anything, about this before it occurred, she just did as she was told,” the unidentified parent writes.
“By the time we were able to make a phone call to PCSB (a time span of about 1 hour), the secretary told us that this pilot program had been suspended. When we did get a return call from one contact, she reiterated that the program has been suspended, like this should appease us.
“My husband continued to ask where our son’s private scans were, and she said the company was instructed to destroy the information. When we asked how do we know this happened, there was no answer.”
The parent said she first learned of the scans last Friday when her son came home from school around 3 p.m., and she tried to make calls to find out what it was about around 4 p.m., but school staff had left for the three-day weekend.
By Tuesday morning, the program was apparently “suspended,” whatever that means.
If anything, the story highlights exactly why the federal student data collection embedded in Common Core is quite frightening. We wonder if there are other situations where parents are still in the dark while personal data is quietly being gathered about their children.
The incident also shows what parents and education activists can accomplish if they keep a vigilant lookout for these types of Big Brother tactics, and other abuses in America’s schools.