Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake — A normal school day at O’Rourke Middle School used to just start with a bus ride, school breakfast and morning announcements. But with a new gadget now welcoming them at the double doors, kids must align their foreheads with a height-adjustable machine in order to get the green light to learn.
This new addition to their routine is courtesy of local company Shepherd Communication & Security, which introduced its Elevated Body Temperature technology just a couple of months into lockdown last year. After vetting a few different technologies, the district realized the EBT was exactly what they needed.
The machine, which scans and detects the students’ skin temperatures and has a variety of other capabilities, has kept the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District up and running since the start of the pandemic.
From Sept. 1 to Jan. 28, the district has reported 64 students and 31 teachers and staff testing positive for COVID-19, according to New York State’s COVID Report Card. The fact that the districts schools have remained open and that there have been only two instances of possible spread at school are indicators of the new equipment’s effectiveness, said Superintendent Patrick McGrath.
The district has recorded a total of 93 positive tests among its teachers, students and staff since COVID arrived locally last winter. No school buildings have had to close, and only two instances of possible spread in school were reported, an indication of how well the temperature technology is working, Superintendent Patrick McGrath said.
“As part of the whole protocol we have in place, we feel confident kids aren’t coming to school sick,” McGrath said. “They’re being screened in the morning. They’re having a temperature scan as they come in. Then once they come in, we have a ton of efforts towards social distancing. All those things together, for us, have been so far, so good. That’s really been our guiding principle, to do everything we can to keep our doors open. We haven’t had to close our buildings yet.”
The temperature kiosk is valued at around $4,000 — including a stand and software, among other things — depending on what each client needs from the system, according to Richard Ruzzo, Shepherd managing partner. And its capabilities aren’t just limited to split-second temperature checks, which BHBL exclusively uses it for. With kiosks at SUNY Polytechnic Institute, WMHT and various other spots — including an installation being prepared for Albany’s Capital Center — the machine can also detect if users are wearing a mask, and in some cases, be used as a timecard to check into work.
“So even after the pandemic is over, the customer can still utilize this piece of equipment, not only for temperature screening, but they can use it for other aspects of their day to day operations,” said Bob Guillerault, managing member of Shepherd.
At BH-BL, students have seen the machine become part of their day-to-day lives. Roughly 300 students who elected to participate in in-person learning use it daily at each of the district’s buildings, including three elementary schools, the middle school and the high school. Teachers and faculty are encouraged to use it, too. According to the school’s administration, the temperature check doesn’t slow down the process of entering the building much, if at all. And, with the machine able to scan students’ temperatures from six feet apart, as compared to regular handheld scanners where workers have to get relatively close to a students’ forehead, the district and Shepherd see the tool as an innovative fix to a common problem.
“Now you’ve got an automated process with the lighter faculty load standing back,” Ruzzo said. “Deploy the resources where they’re best used. Use technology where we can get capacity. I think that’s very important.”
In planning out what specs the machines should have for the district, administrators and Shepherd realized a small problem: Not every student is the same height. But the company prides itself on its ability to meet its customers’ standards, and in this case, the standards of a whole lot of kids.
“For custom engineering, we brought adjustable height stands,” Ruzzo said. “Kids grow and we accommodated for that.”
Outside of some cases here and there, they haven’t had any major COVID outbreaks in any of their buildings. They’re hoping it continues to get them through a safe winter.
“So it’s just been a constant experiment and when you find something that seems to be reliable, and works, as in the case of these kiosks, they ultimately help us,” McGrath said.
Correction 1/30/21 11:25 a.m.: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of local security provider Shepherd Communication & Security.