Baltimore County Public Schools stays ahead of its large population with contactless student IDs
Attendance is a primary, daily function at virtually every elementary, middle and high school across the country. For large schools and districts, logging and reporting student attendance can be an incessant challenge. In Baltimore, a new system is redefining attendance with the student ID card, paving the way for improved campus safety and efficiency.
To aid in this challenge, ScholarChip – a smart card ID provider for the K-12 market and payment gateway and electronic signature provider for Higher Education – has developed a centralized school safety system that leverages a one-card solution.
The Charm City
When Baltimore County Public Schools wanted to better unify school safety and operational services, they turned to ScholarChip, a provider of card-based and transaction solutions for K-12 and higher education markets.
Using a small army of fixed and mobile attendance readers, real-time attendance is recorded at entrances to buildings and in classrooms. Students use newly issued contactless ID cards to “tap” into buildings, classrooms and buses.
The initial phase of the Baltimore project includes integration between ScholarChip’s data center and the Baltimore County Public School District’s student information and security door access systems. The company is providing the photo IDs containing a MIFARE contactless chip to the district’s 126,000 students and staff members.
“The IDs will serve as a single credential for multiple applications, from access control to identification and library services, as well as attendance monitoring and bus attendance to and from schools,” says Bob Abbatecola, director of creative services at ScholarChip.
The challenge of the Charm
Baltimore is the nation’s 23rd largest school district, with 173 buildings and 7,000 classrooms. The implementation will take place in stages, says Abbatecola, but the goal is for each of the 7,000 classrooms to be outfitted with a door reader or be serviced by a portable attendance kiosk.
As an added challenge, the new system had to support the district’s legacy proximity door access system. This required dual technology cards for staff, including traditional proximity technology to support legacy access points as well as contactless for use in new locations.
To get cards in the hands of both staff and students by the start of this school year required an aggressive issuance strategy. Using specially equipped printers from Evolis, ScholarChip handled the bulk of the initial card production at its offices.
“We have already delivered 19,000 full-color staff IDs and we are working to deliver 103,000 student IDs,” says Abbatecola. “Once issued, the contactless IDs are ready to capture attendance in real time via the kiosks, classroom readers or NFC-enabled tablets.”
Printing with Evolis
Beyond this initial issuance, printing new MIFARE cards across the many disparate campuses will fall to district staff. Every school will be provided with an Evolis card printer to support onsite, ongoing issuance.
For the Baltimore project, Evolis provided more than 200 of its Primacy printers, with at least one unit deployed at each of the 169 schools. The Primacy was chosen for its speed and ease of use. “The Primacy can print up to 225 cards per hour, with the card feeder and output tray holding up to 100 cards each. Moreover, these trays are conveniently located at the front of the unit for easy access,” says Jean-Charles Pichon, sales and project manager at Evolis.
Evolis’ High Trust ribbons make life easier for school employees, he explains, as the ribbons are extremely easy to install and feature automatic recognition to eliminate driver adjustment.
“The printers used in Baltimore have been customized according to ScholarChip’s requirements,” says Pichon. The project required a dual-frequency encoder – capable of personalizing both prox and contactless – to be built into the Primacy printers.
“To ease and speed up the issuance process, a dual-frequency RFID encoder is integrated so that a fully encoded and printed card is issued in a single pass, avoiding any potential mismatched information,” he says.
“In a very short time Evolis was able to integrate the new encoder in the Primacy line,” says Pichon. “The challenge included the selection of the encoders, prototyping, piloting and final delivery of more than 200 units – over a very short time frame.”
The kiosks that await students at school entrances, and in some cases the doors to their classrooms, are a key component of the system. With rubber wheels and steel construction, the mobile units are designed for mobile attendance functions across campus in cafeterias, assembly halls and sporting events.
Each kiosk features two smart card readers to expedite entry and are capable of processing up to 40 students per minute. Both wired and wireless network access is supported to provide real-time identification and logging.
The kiosks feature a standard sized computer monitor that can display a custom message for each student. “Kiosks will be attended by a school administrator to ensure that students are informed of any alarms, such as having to visit the principal’s office,” says Abbatecola. “We can even send a ‘Happy Birthday’ message.”
The kiosks can also be outfitted with a printer to produce late passes, or in the case of a forgotten ID, a temporary student credential. They can also process visitor management requests, read state-issued driver licenses and print visitor badges.
The number of kiosks needed per campus will depend on the population, but a typical school will require anywhere from one to six, says Abbatecola.
The wheels on the bus
While processing and monitoring student attendance and engagement on campus remains a cornerstone concern for school administrators, there is an oft-overlooked aspect of attendance that occurs everyday before a student even sets foot on campus: the bus.
Baltimore County Public Schools expressed interest in a solution to log student attendance on buses. Though it won’t be supported at the outset, bus attendance tops the to-do list.
“Bus attendance represents a large step towards ensuring accountability for the whereabouts of all students,” says Abbatecola. “The bus attendance app color codes a student’s presence or absence on the bus and issues alerts when exceptions to those rules are found.”
At the end of a bus route, students that have not tapped a bus reader to indicate that they are getting off the vehicle are logged in the system automatically. Reports then provide, in nearly real time, a historical log of bus attendance, as well as the last location at which a student tapped their smart ID.
Hardware options for the buses are under consideration now. “Some schools have existing readers built into their buses, and we can interact with that. We can also implement readers from vendors that we have worked with in the past,” says Abbatecola. “The most cost-effective way would be to install NFC-enabled tablets on the dashboard, as they can interact with the MIFARE cards. It’s up to the school officials as to how they want to proceed.”
Taking attendance isn’t just a mandatory chore; it’s a vital action that can ensure both the safety and participation of students on campus.
The initiative in Baltimore, and those in other public school districts across the country, is using ScholarChip’s one-card solution to monitor students as they travel from home, to bus, to campus and back again.
It’s a valuable tool that can ease the workload for outnumbered school administrators, provide added peace of mind for parents, and is paving the way for the future of attendance.