Safety first: Scanners for threats

At the beginning of this school year, Philip Barbour High School installed biometric finger scanners. Compromising civil liberties for an Orwellian environment must mean the decision was in the name of something as paramount as student safety. In a country where school violence sadly dominates headlines, the loss of some freedom seems reasonable.

But the scanners aren’t for safety: they’re to alleviate theft in the cafeteria.

Meanwhile, Barbour County schools have been plagued by a series of bomb threats-a total of five as of last week. Each threat must be taken seriously. Police are dispatched with the challenging role of clearing the building as fast as possible, but with accuracy. Missing just one student is a potential tragedy.

Fortunately, all of these bomb threats have resulted in false alarms. We must be grateful for the hard work of law enforcement and educators during these difficult times. Hopefully, our schools will never face a tragic episode.

While we hope for the best, we must prepare for the worst. It is the responsibility of the Barbour County school board to ensure employees are equipped and trained for a potential disaster. But their decision-making history, especially their finger scanner purchase, already reflects backwards thinking.

Using finger scanners on children in schools is a controversial issue. The topic sparks a wide range of opinions.

Some, including the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, are against any use of finger scanners in schools. They claim that such a process dehumanizes children.

Others are in support of finger scans, but only for safety reasons. The Barbour County school district was aware that finger scanners could be used for security measures. The company that sold the devices to Barbour County has even started school bus scanning to help find missing children.

A building attendance system would have students scan their fingers when entering and leaving. The scanners would keep a constant tally of who is in the building. This would eliminate any manual or multiple steps currently used to track these changes. In an evacuation, the scanners would help expedite accounting all students.

However, there is much disagreement over whether or not scanners for building attendance will add much to increase safety. Some view it as only a Band-Aid to prevent school violence, while others remain uncomfortable with what they view as equating students with prisoners.

It will always be difficult to form a consensus on the balance between civil liberties and security. Although, the Barbour County school board did find agreement to cross the line and play Big Brother-but it was in the name of stopping the theft of cheese sandwiches and miniature milk cartons.

The bomb threats began before the cafeteria finger scanner system was installed. The school board should have tried to scrap the cafeteria scanners and put the resources toward attendance scanners that could assist during emergencies. Instead, they stuck to their original plan that didn’t see an opportunity to increase student safety.

Now, as the school year comes to a close with a total of five bomb threats, the school board should consider installing more scanners-but this time for safety.