Leading by Example

How St. Therese turned to SAFR® to better protect its community, one opt-in at a time


School Name: St. Therese Catholic Academy
Location: Seattle
Established: 1927
Grades: Preschool-8th
Students: 165

Full-time Teachers: 15
Student-Teacher Ratio: 11 to 1
Started Deploying SAFR: September 2018
Parent Participation Rate: 52%
Use Cases: School Safety, Secure Access

Located in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood, St. Therese is one of the first schools in the nation to use facial recognition software to enhance safety without compromising privacy. Prior to deploying SAFR, the building used a camera at its main entrance with a door buzzer. Outside of morning drop-off and afternoon pickup, doors would remain locked, and visitors were required to use a video intercom to gain entry.

One of St. Therese Catholic Academy’s root beliefs is “We lead by example.” In 2018, the pre-K through 8th grade Seattle school took a forward-thinking leap in security technology by becoming one of the first schools in the United States to use facial recognition to enhance security on its campus. 

With safety an increasingly serious concern for public, private and charter schools across the country, students, faculty, and parents demand thoughtful, creative solutions to help enhance school security. The summer prior to the 2018-2019 school year, after repeated school tragedies throughout the country, St. Therese Principal Matt DeBoer decided it was time to take some steps to better protect his students and staff. DeBoer looked to RealNetworks for its secure, accurate facial recognition (SAFR).

“SAFR increases our awareness, taking the worry and thinking about safety and security away from classroom teachers, freeing them up to teach.”

– Matt DeBoer, Principal, St. Therese Catholic Academy

Built for Diversity

Leading by example involved choosing a facial recognition solution designed to be mindful of diversity — more than 40 percent of the St. Therese staff, and the vast majority of the parents and guardians, identify as people of color. Since many facial recognition systems have historically performed poorly for non-white skin tones, the school community was concerned the system wouldn’t accurately recognize all faces.

DeBoer worked with parents and staff to address those concerns and co-develop a strategy. He learned that SAFR’s near-perfect accuracy is augmented by the intentionality of the design — prior to the launch of SAFR, the software’s developers trained the algorithm to disregard ethnicity by using a massive and highly diverse global data set. DeBoer also learned that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) had released results ranking SAFR fourth out of more than 100 algorithms tested for achieving consistent accuracy across a range of skin tones. SAFR’s demonstrated low bias and efforts to help eradicate it gave St. Therese the assurance needed to begin deployment.

Recognition results are so good, SAFR has made St. Therese a closer community. “SAFR provides us with the opportunity to use technology for good. It’s made our community smaller,” DeBoer said. “We learn the names of people registered in the system at a much faster rate, so it’s helped us build a more tightly knit community. Calling people by name when they arrive always makes a community stronger.”

Greater Situational Awareness

Key to a more secure campus was greater situational awareness at all points of entry and exit, and increased visibility in the school hallways to alert staff if unrecognized persons are in the building.

St. Therese equipped two of its five entrances with IP cameras and invited all staff and volunteers to get registered in the system — registration was optional, and the simple process involved getting your picture taken and typing your name into a computer. Parents were also invited to opt-in any time, using a self-service kiosk to take their photo and type in their name.

According to DeBoer, the system has made the staff and students feel safer, letting them focus on what’s most crucial: teaching and learning. “By including SAFR in the St. Therese security plan, our staff can now devote more time to student needs. They are no longer tethered to monitoring the door buzzer throughout the day,” he said.


“If other schools are wondering if SAFR is easy to use, we’ve found it to be simple and rather intuitive, with not a lot of advanced skills needed. Once the equipment is hooked up and the program is in place, the software really runs itself.”

– Matt DeBoer, Principal, St. Therese Catholic Academy

SAFR in Action

In addition to granting access to approved and registered individuals, St. Therese can register a parent without pickup rights or a recently fired employee by uploading a photo and marking the person as a concern. DeBoer recalled how SAFR identified a parent without pickup rights the moment the person arrived on campus. The parent wasn’t a threat, but the system responded appropriately in letting staff know the person was on campus.

DeBoer also worked with Seattle Police when they sent him a photo to add to the SAFR database of an individual who made a general threat to Seattle-area schools. Had that person appeared anywhere near the campus cameras, SAFR would’ve recognized the threat and immediately alerted staff.

“Luckily, we haven’t had to utilize SAFR for lockdowns or other emergencies,” DeBoer said, “but having that capability ready to go is a comforting breath of fresh air that we’re aware, we’re safe, and we can focus on learning and teaching.”

Configuring SAFR for a Custom Fit

St. Therese customized SAFR to suit the school’s needs:

Security Responses to ITTT Scenarios

  • Sounding an alarm
  • Sending group texts
  • Notifying police
  • Locking doors

Smile-to-Unlock Liveness Detection

SAFR Smile to Unlock

Age Detection

SAFR Age Detection

Prioritizing Privacy

Along with overall school safety, SAFR has also put St. Therese families at ease in terms of privacy. From full opt-in/opt-out capabilities to highly encrypted data, parents enjoy peace of mind knowing their individual rights, and their children’s rights, are given utmost priority. In fact, RealNetworks provides complete control to schools who use the technology:

No children are allowed in the SAFR system. St. Therese students are always escorted by adults. SAFR uses age detection to prevent children under 18 from registering.

The SAFR system is not mandatory. Anyone not wishing to use SAFR can use an ID badge or the intercom.

All data is owned by St. Therese. RealNetworks employees do not have access to names, faces, or data collected (ex. date and time of entry). Facial information is archived then deleted, consistent with how St. Therese staff manage and maintain all school information.

Read the SAFR team’s Implementation Best Practices in full.

“We appreciate that SAFR respects privacy. The solution enables us to make our school more secure, while also protecting the privacy of all students, parents, and staff.”

– Matt DeBoer, Principal, St. Therese Catholic Academy

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