Public schools in four counties of West Virginia will employ facial recognition software under a new school safety program.
The state government has invested more than $2 million in improving school safety while some local school districts turned to new technologies to increase awareness of who comes onto their campuses.
Marion, Taylor, Doddridge and Putnam Counties have either installed or are installing Rank One Computing’s facial recognition software, which is compatible with the schools’ existing cameras. The counties will ultimately create their own databases of the collected data. The database will be housed on school servers.
“It provides schools with an additional layer of security. They can enter the faces of their staff and students and well-known visitors,” said Jonah Adkins, the director of preK-12 academic support for the state’s Department of Education, at a school board meeting on May 10. “It sends administrators alerts if an unwanted person were to approach the door or anywhere on campus.”
Rank One Computer opened its East Coast headquarters in Morgantown in 2022. The company was founded in 2015 and is based in Colorado.
“We are thrilled to be working with schools in West Virginia to pilot this important innovation. School safety is a top priority for us. We are dedicated to creating cutting-edge solutions that will help build a safer future for children and educators everywhere,” said Scott Swan, the company’s CEO, in a press release on May 8. Swan is originally from West Virginia.
Marion County Schools began weighing the benefits of facial recognition software after a presentation to its school board from Rank One Computing in August of 2022. The company offers RankWatch, a facial recognition software compatible with current security cameras.
According to the Times West Virginian, Fairmont:
The program allows the schools to create a database of known faces that will be picked up by the security cameras around each campus. The programs will check faces and check them against databases made by the schools to ensure individuals approaching campus are expected or known.
These lists can also extend to suspended or expelled students to ensure students or individuals not allowed near campus don’t disrupt school activities.
The software can detect doors that are left ajar or if someone approaching the school has a weapon. The camera can be synced with law enforcement data to detect known criminals and sex offenders. If the cameras detect any issues, they will send an alert to the school’s central office.
According to Swan, both Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Senator Shelly Moore Capito, a Republican, had expressed their support for the venture.
The Marion County School Board voted in favor of installing the facial recognition software at a meeting in September of 2022.
“This gives us a unified system that we can utilize at all of our schools,” said Superintendent Donna Hage to Times West Virginian Fairmont. “Many school systems have looked at solutions that address someone who’s already in the school building. What I like about this software is it stops them at the point of entry.”
Governor Jim Justice announced his $2 million school safety initiative in October 2022.
“You see the tragedies that have happened, and it happened all across this land, and we know we’re not immune to a tragedy that could happen here,” Justice said. “So we’ve taken steps to make sure that we bring everybody together, that if God forbid, we had a bad incident that was happening here in West Virginia, all the agencies would be coordinating together.”