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No ID card? No entrance
High school to go hi tech

New York Times | February 12, 2007  
ROSE Y. COLÓN

TRENTON -- By the end of the month, any student wishing to enter Trenton Central High School must carry an identification card with a special bar code.

With just one swipe of the card, the student's picture and class schedule will appear on a computer screen. If the picture matches the student, he or she may gain access into the building.

This new identification system is part of an effort led by Superintendent Rodney Lofton to control access into schools and strengthen security districtwide.

The Comprehensive Attendance, Administration and Security System (CAASS) is being installed in all three high school campuses, Dunn Middle School, Hedgepeth/ Williams School and the Career Life Skills Center.

CAASS is used in more than 400 schools in New York, as well as the Camden public school district and schools in Washington, D.C., according to a spokesman from the Pennsylvania-based Access 411, the company that produces the attendance tracking system.

In Trenton, the six schools were chosen based on the density of their student populations and not because of a reputation for violence, according to Howard White, the district's head of security.

But Trenton Central High School is on the state list of "persistently dangerous" schools, a label it previously shared with Dunn Middle School.

A school must follow the same violent pattern for three consecutive years in order to be considered most dangerous.

Last October, White told the school board that violence had increased in the district.

A report he presented to the school board stated that a total of 411 violent incidents were reported to the state during the 2005-06 academic year compared to 366 the previous school year.

Data for the current school year was not made available by district officials.

Fights in corridors had been a persistent problem in the district but school officials will be able to monitor hallways better with CAASS, according to White.

"The purpose of the system is to track attendance. We are hoping it helps prevent or reduce violence because we will be able to control hall walkers who are cutting class," he said in an interview this week.

White warned that students will not be able to swap cards. "You can't give your card to someone and think you can get away with it because the cards are going to have your face," he said.

If a card is lost, he said, it will be deactivated. Each school will choose its own design for the cards and students who lose them will receive replacements, he said.

The system will also print passes for visitors and students who arrive late to school, White said.

At the TCHS main campus, five monitoring stations will be set up and security personnel will be equipped with manual card swip ers, White said.

Similar stations and equipment will be installed at other schools, he said.

The cost of the system is $265,000, which will come out of an estimated $1.4 million in security funding.

Staff will be trained to operate the system, which is scheduled to start in coming weeks, White said.

More than 100 surveillance cameras and dozens of metal detectors are used in the district, which has about 80 security officers, according to White.

In order to pinpoint needed se curity improvements, the district is also undergoing a security assessment, he said.

The assessment is being performed by New York-based Risk Solutions International at a cost of $65,000, Business Administrator Nancy Swirsky said.

All of these efforts are part of a security plan Lofton announced not long after he arrived in the district last August.

Lofton's plan included installing panic locks on 92 doors at the high school and setting up nearly 600 surveillance cameras at a cost of an estimated $150,000.

Lofton also previously said he would like to have four police officers to serve as "school resource officers" in the high school. That would cost an estimated $316,000, according to a school security report prepared last year.

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