One K-12 trend on the rise is the use of bar-coded, magnetic stripe, and “smart chip” student ID cards to streamline a wide range of student management functions, from attendance tracking and library transactions to cafeteria accounting and computer-lab access control.

More and more schools are issuing bar-coded ID cards to students, faculty, staff, and even outsiders such as construction workers and contractors. In many instances, schools are using the same cards to handle multiple functions, though this requires compatibility among administrative software applications.

If you’ve invested in student ID cards for, say, security and attendance purposes, you can use those same cards for grading and discipline tracking, library and cafeteria transactions, busing, facility access, and parental consent internet access. The cards can even be used as prepaid activity passes.

If you’re thinking of implementing an advanced ID system, there are several options to consider. What function or functions do you have in mind for the cards? What budget do you want to tap to implement the system? Do you want to go with traditional film-based cards or the more advanced, digital imaging technology?

Harrison, Colo., School District faced these same questions not long ago as the school system sought a way to handle growth, address school security, and increase its efficiency of operation.

With enrollment at the district’s two high schools growing to approximately 1,200 students each, the student services department wanted to abandon its old, nonfunctional ID card system for one that could keep a better tab on the schools’ expanding populations. The department also wanted a system that could streamline its cafeteria operation and eventually handle library services and a range of other functions.

“We were really looking for one photo ID system to do it all,” said district official Dixie Maez. “We wanted all our information to travel through a single, centralized server made accessible by students and staff carrying their ID cards.”

Maez’s research led her to the digital technology of Denver-based DataCard Corp.

Digital ID cards have many advantages over their traditional film-based counterparts, including more durability, superior resistance to tampering, and a replacement cost that’s about one-fourth that of replacing film-based cards, according to Maez.

DataCard was able to provide the district with a system that could be easily integrated with the district’s various databases and platforms, Maez said. The firm also provides all the equipment a district needs to produce the cards, from software and printers to digital cameras and other accessories.

Using funds from its yearly security budget, the district purchased three complete ID systems from DataCard and began producing cards at the beginning of the 1998-99 school year.

“We batch-printed more than 1,200 photo IDs at each school in just a few days,” recalled Harrison High School assistant principal Rob Ransdell. “[The DataCard] systems offered the reliability and performance we needed to produce such a large number of photo IDs in such a short period of time.”

Initially, the district’s two high schools are using the digital cards as student and staff ID badges. The ID cards have also been integrated with the schools’ food service database, allowing for faster moving lines in the cafeteria as well as improved privacy for students on subsidized meal plans.

The district hopes to integrate the cards for library transactions in the 1999-2000 school year. Further down the road, the district plans to add even more functions, such as attendance, access to school events, busing verification, and internet access.

“With safety and cost issues driving how schools are run, I truly believe that digital photo ID technology is the wave of the future for schools,” Maez remarked. “Fortunately, our district had the foresight to recognize this trend early on, and we’re seeing the benefits already.”