Artificial Intelligence Boosting TX School Safety

AI-powered video monitoring system SparkCognition can detect intruders and weapons. | Image by SparkCognition
AI-powered video monitoring system SparkCognition can detect intruders and weapons. | Image by SparkCognition

Texas public school districts are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence technology to help keep campuses safe.

A report from The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), a left-leaning non-profit organization that supports school boards at taxpayer expense, found that districts are deploying everything from AI-boosted metal detectors to monitoring systems to help curb some of the logistical challenges to maintaining robust security measures.

Ever since the school shooting in Uvalde in 2022, school security has been a key issue across Texas.

The response of the school district and local law enforcement to the active shooter situation has come under heavy scrutiny, as covered extensively by The Dallas Express. Just recently, the families of those killed in the massacre announced a $2 million settlement with the city. The terms allow them to pursue new lawsuits against local authorities.

Although there has been significant debate over how best to protect children, teachers, and staff on campus while maintaining a productive learning environment, Texas lawmakers decided last year to require each taxpayer-funded campus to have at least one armed peace officer on site.

At the district level, officials have implemented their own policies, with some districts turning to more rudimentary guidelines, such as requiring students to carry transparent backpacks, as seen at Dallas ISD, and others using more costly modern tools.

For instance, TASB found that some districts, like Liberty Hill ISD in Central Texas, have opted to partner with SparkCognition to deploy an AI-powered video monitoring system. Since April 2023, the system has been analyzing data and identifying potential hazards, ranging from weapons to intruders, in real-time at Liberty Hill ISD campuses.

“We spent four or five months just talking about what the system could do, what the school could do, what do we need,” Travis Motal, chief of schools for Liberty Hill ISD, explained to TASB. “It took us a month to get our technology working online.”

The pilot program cost the district nothing for the first year but will amount to roughly $200,000 to $300,000 annually after that. While the price tag might seem steep, Motal said it was not.

“If I have 200-plus security cameras at the high school, I could hire a person who makes $30,000 to $60,000 to sit there and watch all the cameras all the time, but one person can’t watch 200 cameras at one time, so how many people would I need?” explained Motal.

“If you start scaling up costs, you start to realize pretty quickly that the cost it would take for me to have that many people monitoring is more, if not the same, as it’s going to cost for me to partner with this company,” he said.

If the AI software detects a potential hazard, Motal receives a notification on his phone. He believes that this technology not only identifies major problems but also helps flag developing ones.

“If I don’t fix small things, they become big things,” said Motal. “You’re able to stop a fight before it happens, or drug use, instead of reacting after somebody reports it the next day.”

Waco ISD is another Texas school district turning to AI technology for security assistance. Thanks to devices developed by Evolv Technologies, the large crowds of students and staff can be easily scanned for weapons at campus entrances.

“We can get 900 kids through in 45 minutes, versus the old-style metal detectors, where it would hit on cell phones, it would hit on keys, it would hit on pens,” Jerry Allen, Waco ISD’s chief technology officer, told TASB. “The Evolv system only hits on people who have those types of items, like baseball bats or things shaped like a barrel. We pull those people over to the side and search.”

Evolv also works with Mansfield ISD and Forney ISD, as previously covered by The Dallas Express.

It is worth noting that even with new AI technology being deployed in schools to boost campus safety, its efficacy often depends on human beings following through with security protocols. Such lapses were pointed to having contributed to a Dallas ISD student sneaking a weapon into Wilmer-Hutchins High School in South Dallas last month and using it to injure another student.

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