Schools turn to scanners to let students pay with fingerprints

Area schools are keeping up with the technology trend in and out of the classroom. Computer software and databases are being
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010


Area schools are keeping up with the technology trend in and out of the classroom.

Computer software and databases are being required for more than just classroom or security purposes, but for cafeteria management as well.

Over the last five years schools have evolved from cash registers to debit cards and most recently to fingerprint scanning.

The scanning devices are no bigger than a hand-held supermarket scanner and require a child to press his or her index finger in the middle as the red scanning light reads it. The computer pulls up identifiable information such as name, grade, the amount of prepaid money on the account and the child's school picture.

Perkins, which has the scanning systems in all four district buildings, purchased seven systems in August 2006 for about $4,500 out of the cafeteria fund; no tax dollars were used.

As Food Services director Linda Miller explained, the scanning system allows for an easy transition from lunch payments to learning a child's allergy.

"Parents can send money for the week, month or longer, and the amount is entered into the system," she said.

"We can also identify those who have free or reduced lunches."

The software allows extra messages to be saved in the system, which can state any allergies the child may have or a parental request for no extra items.

"We sometimes get parents calling in and wondering if they just sent a check in, and where did the money go," she said. "Now we can pull up the account and find out. The child could be loading up on extras during the week. We can put special messages in the system to prevent that."

Many concerned parents have feared the system would store their child's fingerprints along with personal, identifiable information.

"Fingerprints are not saved," Miller said. "The system scans the fingerprint, not saves it."

Each time a finger is scanned, it has to be placed the exact same way the next time or it won't register in the system, Miller said.

"At first we take it a little slower," she said, "but as they (the children) get used to it, they fly right through here."

Miller said the process can get complicated at the elementary level because of the size of the child's -- especially a kindergartner's -- finger.

"We have them use their thumbs, because they're bigger," she said. "But we're only working with one class at a time to teach them how to use it because we don't want to overwhelm them when they already have so much to get used to."

Although schools like Bellevue, Sandusky, Norwalk, Margaretta and Clyde haven't adopted this level of lunchroom technology, they have moved more toward the use of debit cards and PIN numbers, which also are matched to a child's picture, grade and lunch rate information.

"We use cards and PIN pads at the junior highs and high school," said Tom Freitas, supervisor of Dining Services for Sandusky schools. "We can then verify who's who, even though by the first few months or so cafeteria workers have a pretty good idea of who has reduced or free lunches."

Miller and officials at Port Clinton and Huron schools, which are operating under the finger scanning system, agree to the simplicity of the system.

"A single print brings a picture and info up," Miller said. "All you need to come to lunch with is your own finger."