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Fingers used as meal ticket

Rome News Tribune / Sonya Elkins | September 4 2006

If using a scan of your finger as a credit card sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie to you, it may be time to catch up with local 5-year-olds.

Rome City Schools is switching its elementary schools, Rome Middle School and Rome High School to a finger-scanning system that accesses students' accounts and lets them pay for meals with — literally — a touch of the finger.

Second grade Anna K. Davie student Adrianna Harris liked the change in her lunchroom, she said, as she took a break from eating her pizza to consider the system.

“The finger's better because all you've got to do is put your finger in, and you don't have to do the number and get mixed up,” Adrianna said.

Before, students typed in or verbally gave pin numbers to lunchroom personnel to access their accounts and pay for meals. In the system prior to that, students scanned identification cards.

City administrators said the new system speeds lunch lines, particularly for younger students, and eliminates problems such as forgotten cards and numbers.

However, some parents are questioning the new system, which is already being used by some students at all schools.

The city hopes to have all students scanned in and the system in complete use within the next month.

A big part of Rome High parent Hal Storey's issue is he was never notified or given information on the system before his 10th grade daughter's finger was scanned. In an age of identity theft, he said, his questions should have been answered beforehand.

While he understands the biometric scan done by the machine of students' fingers is not the equivalent of an actual fingerprint “it is some version of it,” he said.

“It may be perfectly secure, but my daughter is a minor and I understand that supposedly the kids have the option to not have their prints scanned but that's not being articulated to my daughter,” Storey said. “If parents don't know about it, they don't know about the ‘opt out' option.”

Rome City Schools Superintendent Gayland Cooper confirmed students don't have to use the system.

The city has heard some questions about the finger-scanning system and in response plans to send a letter to parents, likely sometime next week, Cooper said.

“I have been assured biometrics and the use of a finger scan for meal passes is a secure method for charging student accounts for lunch and breakfast,” he said. “The process also allows the lunch line to move quicker, and it provides more security than verbally calling out pin numbers at lunch.”

The new technology hasn't raised red flags with all parents.

Lori Tilton, mother of a fifth grade West End student, said she learned about it a couple of weeks ago while eating lunch with her daughter.

“I think it's a good, efficient way to do it,” she said, “and I'm not really concerned with any violations of privacy.”

Getting all students scanned into the system is a gradual process, Cooper said. So why the added effort and investment to switch to a new system?

In the progression from scanning cards to entering numbers, this new option is the easiest and most efficient yet for students, said Barbara Carter, Rome City Schools nutrition director.

“We wanted our students to have more time to eat,” she said. “It's going to get our students more quickly through the line.”

Things move along quicker at her school, said Anna K. Davie fourth grader Nikeria London. “It doesn't take so long for us to sit down,” she said.

The system makes cashiers' jobs easier and lines flow more smoothly, said Shawn Tucker, a technical support manager for Comalex, the company that supplied the new technology.

“From a sales point, it just streamlines the system,” he said. “You don't have administrators worrying that children remember cards or numbers.”

If he had been notified and informed about the technology before it was put in place, Storey said, he might have been fine with the new system.

“At this moment my plan is to instruct them because they don't have parental permission, to remove my daughter's scan and have alternative means,” he said.

 

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