By Maxine Slater
Photography by Boo Elliott
On Tuesday, January 2nd, Beacon greeted its students with a new routine. The once-spacious 44th Street lobby was newly barred with two oblong carts, both equipped with DOE computers and scanner machinery. The students lined up behind the new installations, their ID cards in hand, and swiped into the school under the direction of Beacon faculty. Some students were sent to separate lines to receive new IDs after their initial swipes resulted in loud clanking sounds – the indication of an inoperative ID card. Most checked in without difficulty, their attendance documented with the sound of an affirming “ding.” This chaotic blend of crashing and dinging was the official inauguration of Beacon’s new swipe-in system.
The decision to implement a swipe-in system came after the bombing of the 42nd Street subway station, a hub many Beacon students frequent. After the incident, distressed parents called Beacon to ensure their children had arrived to school safely, but with no central census figure – let alone a body count of daily attendance – Beacon administrators were unable to provide these parents with any form of reassurance. The situation left many parents displeased with the school’s management of crises, and the rebuke Beacon received in the following days hit home with its administration. Subsequently, the school devised a system that could catalog student attendance and alleviate parental confusion in the case of future emergencies–a swipe-in system that debuted on return from winter recess.
Whether for its professionalism or support in taking attendance, nearly all Beacon administrators favor the new swiping system. Many Beacon teachers laud the system’s ability to inform them of which students are cutting their classes, although teachers are still required to manually take down students who are present. Beacon security guards applaud the system for fortifying the school’s security by inhibiting the entrance of non-Beacon students. In terms of general safety conduct, the security guards also believe the system reinforces the necessity of traveling with ID outside of school.
While popular among staff, the swipe-in system has had mixed reception within the student body. Students critical of the system believe it is a precursor for more militarized security measures to come–namely, metal detectors and searches of their belongings. Some mimic their Beacon administrators in ardently supporting the system for its increased school security. In the words of junior Ella Fruchter, “the benefits offered by the swiping system far outweigh its inconvenience.” Other students chide the machinery for the disruption it poses to their morning routine, a sentiment common among Beacon commuters who, already suffering train delays, argue that even a minute spent on swiping can mean the difference between being timely and being tardy. Many students seem indifferent to the swiping system, viewing it as neither an incovenience nor a commendable addition to the school.
Though advertised as the advent of school safety, the new swipe-in system has backfired more than once and generated unnecessary parental concern. The system notifies parents via an email with a timestamp that their child has arrived at school. If a student does not swipe in, his parents are notified of this absence. Yet this system fails to account for faulty or missing ID cards and can mark students as absent when they are actually present.
Junior Ella Noveck Holmes experienced this when her student ID card was inexplicably rendered unserviceable on the morning of Monday, January 8th. Unaware of her card’s defect, Ella swiped into the school without concern and proceeded to her first period class. Shortly thereafter, Ella was greeted with a barrage of concerned texts from her mother asking, “Where are you?” Indeed, after the swiping system had failed to record Ella’s presence, her mother had received a convincing email that her child had not arrived to school. While easily discounted as an aberration in the school’s system, various Beacon students have found that Ella’s swiping fiasco is a case far more common than many anticipated. For some, the swipe-in system seems to be exacerbating the parental concern it sought to alleviate.
Moreover, the system has caused the late arrival of Beacon students to their first period classes. This tardiness can result from the time required for waiting to swipe in or the swiping process itself. Other times, students are rendered late from lacking ID altogether. The latter was the case of junior Leila Henry, who arrived late to her first period AP biology class – a course known for strict attendance policies – after forgetting her Beacon student ID. Leila had left her house on time and promptly reached her local F train station on the morning of Tuesday, January 16th. It was only when her train pulled into the 7th avenue 9th street station that she realized she had forgotten her student ID and, aware of the consequences of this omission, ran from the station to retrieve it from her home. Leila’s ID retrieval came at the cost of reaching class on time, and she was registered as 5 minutes late when she clocked into the school that morning. Although she blames her own forgetfulness, Leila found it “frustrating that [her] actions to comply with the new school policy backfired.”
As New York City sees an upsurge in public school swipe-in services, Beacon directors argue that, if not for security or attendance reasons, the school’s scanning system reflects due conformity with the rest of the city. Numerous Beacon officials believe the technology is overdue, with hundreds of public high schools already having implemented their own version. While Beacon administrators heed the citywide call for increased security measures, they continue to face pushback from their student constituency, who question the system’s efficacy. In the foreseeable future, however, it appears that Beacon students will continue to scan their attendance and silently gripe with the swipe.