Abandoning SchoolPass Would Be the Right Call

The SchoolPass opening screen loads. Photo by Reid Alexander.

High School Principal Katie Gibson announced on March 4 in an email to high schoolers and parents that all students should download SchoolPass, an app designed to help schools keep track of when students are on or off campus. Students indicate that they are on campus by swiping to show when they have arrived and swiping again to record when they leave. 

A student is only able to sign into the app when on campus, as the app uses a GPS tracking system. The system doesn’t track where students are at any given time, but it is enabled when a student arrives on the GDS campus. If a student arrives after school begins, they have to select the reason they’re late. And when a student is marked late, SchoolPass sends an alert to their parents and advisor. 

Until the SchoolPass system was introduced in class meetings in late March, the only thing that was asked of students when entering the building was to scan in with their school ID. According to Assistant Principal for School Life Quinn Killy, once a student swipes their ID at one of the school’s entrances, the door unlocks and the student’s attendance is recorded. 

High school director of security Nick Prout explained the importance of the ID scanning system. “If we have an emergency, we need to know which students are on campus,” he said. “The scan-in and scan-out is mainly for situations where we have to locate you.” Prout said that the scan-in system is how teachers often take attendance and how security officers are able to track who came to school and who didn’t.

Given the fact that students were already expected to scan in with their physical IDs, the addition of the SchoolPass app is just another way to complicate students’ mornings. In the March class meetings, Killy mentioned that the app would result in a removal of the requirement to scan school IDs to enter the campus. But this change hasn’t been made; doors still remain locked until a student ID is scanned. 

Junior Jamie Zimmerman downloaded the app but said that he doesn’t use it very often, if ever. “I don’t understand why it’s more useful than just scanning in,” he said. 

Although the SchoolPass process is relatively simple, it still complicates faculty’s ability to see who is on campus and who is not. Because there is no enforcement of downloading the app, inevitably, some students will download it and others won’t. This split will result in teachers wondering whether students are truly absent or just haven’t downloaded the app. Although advisors can see if advisees have checked in, they have no way of telling whether or not the list is complete

High school math teacher Julia Penn spoke about her experience as an advisor with the app’s tardy and absent markings. “In the past, I’ve gotten notified by email when a student is marked late to school or absent, even when they aren’t really skipping class and have an excused absence,” she said.

Because of the incorrect markings, Penn said she is often left wondering which notifications are significant. “I haven’t really understood what I’m supposed to get and what I’m not supposed to get,” she added.

The app also functions to send alerts to phones of students who have checked in so that they can act quickly in the event of an emergency. Alongside the fact that teachers won’t necessarily know the true status of a student’s attendance, in emergencies, students without the app won’t be notified as quickly as students who have downloaded it, rendering the safety it could add useless. 

SchoolPass is flawed. Not only do flaws lie in the actual app in its intended use, but they are also present in the school’s management of the app in its plan to create a better, safer GDS. 

Administrators have taken a lenient approach towards making students download the app. There have been several announcements suggesting that students download the app, but no real enforcement has taken place. In an April newsletter sent to the high school community, Killy wrote that students “should have downloaded the app” before returning to campus after spring break.

According to Killy, this school year was a trial run for SchoolPass in the high school, but administrators hope to solidify the app’s usage in the upcoming school year. Killy said that it is currently unclear how administrators will go about implementing the finalized SchoolPass system.

GDS shouldn’t adopt enforcement measures to make students get the app because students should have the choice to download what they want on their personal devices, especially when it comes to an app like SchoolPass with a GPS tracker that could feel invasive. Without any enforcement, though, the app gives a false sense of security to students who have downloaded the app since many of their peers haven’t. So the best option is to abandon the SchoolPass system entirely.

The damaging effects of SchoolPass outweigh its benefits; the school’s default system, which is simply assuming all students are on campus and making sure they are safe in the case of an emergency, is the best option.

GDS should continue with the ID scan-in system it has had in place. Requiring IDs to enter the building results in more people scanning in since they must do so to enter. Of course, in any course of action, there will be flaws. In the school’s ID system, some students may have snuck behind a friend to enter in the morning and not been accounted for, but adding SchoolPass won’t aid problems like those; the addition just creates the potential for further complications.

CLARIFICATION (May 26): A previous version of this article’s headline misleadingly suggested that GDS is abandoning SchoolPass. It is not; that is the author’s proposal.