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Crookston School District goes high-tech with temperature checks

Mike Christopherson
mchristopherson@crookstontimes.com

    For a total cost of a few hundred dollars less than $20,000, the Crookston School District is purchasing five digital temperature scanners that will screen students at the primary entrances to the the three public school buildings this school year, a purchase made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The two largest and most expensive systems, to be placed at the main entrances to Crookston High School and Highland School, will have the ability to temperature-scan as many as 30 people at once as they walk by. The smaller scanners, to be placed at Washington School, Highland and on the east entrance at CHS, won’t have the capacity of the larger units, but the Crookston School Board this week approved spending a few hundred more dollars on units that won’t require each person walking by to pause in front of the camera for a couple seconds to have their temperature scanned.

    While parents are strongly encouraged to be especially aware of their kids’ health on the mornings of school days, Superintendent Jeremy Olson said it’s critical that a system be in place at the three school buildings to quickly check the temperatures of students and staff coming and going.

    So how will it work?

    A person will be monitoring a computer at each entrance. The system will quickly identify anyone with a suspected high temperature. The guideline right now is 100.4 degrees, but Olson, noting that hand-held digital thermometers typically seem to offer a temperature about a degree less than actual, said 99.4 might be a better benchmark. Anyone with a scanned high temperature will be identified on the computer and the person will be discreetly asked to step aside for a moment to be rechecked with a hand-held thermometer.

    “If it’s truly high, there’s a process that at first will involve isolating the individual,” Olson explained. “The idea is to try to take the temperatures as quickly and seamlessly as possible and get the students into the school learning environment as soon as possible.”

    Olson stressed that the point isn’t to be punitive or somehow “penalize” a student for possibly having a fever. “There will be an isolation area in each building, and I know that sounds kind of bad, but we need to keep that student away from others,” he explained, adding that the next step would be to secure a ride home for the individual. “We don’t want to make a big deal about a kid having a temp,” Olson continued.

    The temperature scans will continue throughout the school day, whether it’s at the high school and students are leaving for lunch and returning, or at the elementary schools and students are coming and going to recess. Olson and the three school principals agreed that that’s an important aspect of the system because fevers don’t always manifest themselves right away in the morning and instead show up in the afternoon.

    In addition to individuals with detected high temperatures being identified and taken aside, the system will have the ability to immediately email designated people, such as the school nurse, building principal and/or school office staff. A photo of the infrared scan of the individual with the suspected fever will be included in the email, along with a “normal” photo of the person for identification purposes.

    School principals Eric Bubna, Denice Oliver and Chris Trostad each said that the purchase of the temperature scanning equipment at the level of capability that Olson recommended the board approve will significantly reduce the number of staff that they would otherwise have had to assign to temperature checking at their school entrances.

    “With 500 kids coming into a building, that’s a lot for (staff) to check,” Trostad noted. “This is some pretty great technology.”

    Asked by board member Adrianne Winger if considerations will be given in the event that a child is bundled up in multiple layers of clothing in the winter and getting off a warm bus or out of a warm car, or if a child is hot and sweaty after recess. Olson said those factors will be considered, and that’s a primary reason why students suspected by the scanner of having a fever will be taken aside and checked a second time.

    Asked by board member Mike Theis is there are any privacy issues related to capturing images of students digitally, Olson said there is no “information retention” involved and that the temperature scanners compare in that realm to a security camera.

Funding

    Asked about available funding for the temperature scanners, Olson said the state has boosted education funding because of the pandemic by $301 per pupil unit, which adds up to a little more than $300,000 for the school district. In addition, initial CARES Act funds for the district total more than $300,000, and Polk County, through its federal CARES Act allocation, is making $50,000 available to the school district.

    While the federal CARES Act money doesn’t have to be spent for a couple of years, the other two allocations need to be spent by the end of this year, Olson said.

    The superintendent said he’s confident it will be spent.

    “We’re not in a rush to spend money, but there are deadlines, and the state dollars, you use them or lose them,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of expenses. The additional cleaning supplies, we’ve been ordering like crazy, and things like six-foot markers on the floors, it’s all very, very costly. We’re spending a lot of money, but it’s the right thing to do, to keep kids and staff safe.”