A select group of students in the Peninsula School District will get an opportunity to pilot a lunch payment program this fall that will use finger scans.
The technology, once something you would only see in a James Bond movie, has become significantly more practical. Harbor Heights and Vaughn elementary schools will have the program.
Sid Taylor, the school district’s director of child nutrition, said he hopes this program will expedite the lunch line process.
“What we were looking at is speed of service,” Taylor said. “A lot of times, especially in the beginning of the school year, kids don’t remember their lunch number. It starts to bog down the lunch line — kids are waiting around. We’re kind of thinking at looking at different technologies to speed up the process. A couple of other districts have used this.”
Peninsula School District administrators got the idea from the Kennewick School District, which has used similar technology. The PSD also is looking into other technologies, such as a touch-screen program that would show images of the kids sorted by their homeroom, and the administrator could simply click on a student’s face. Taylor said the touch-screen technology is more expensive.
If the technology malfunctions or is ineffective, Taylor said administrators would revert to the former method of calculating lunch payments.
Taylor also hopes to address some parents who might be concerned with the possible privacy issues by allowing them to opt out of the program.
“A letter was sent home to the parents, giving them the option to opt out,” he said. “The student can still just say the number. They don’t have to use it, and we just simply put on a student’s account that they don’t want to be scanned.
“A few parents opted out — about 12 kids whose parents don’t want them to participate.”
Taylor wanted to give parents the option to not participate, but he explained that the technology is not invasive.
“The finger scanner itself, it takes a fingerprint image and just uses it as a mathematical template,” he said. “It can’t be transferred to any other device. I wanted to give the option to parents who felt like it was intrusive. A few of them did, and that’s no problem.”
Taylor acknowledged there could be a couple minor problems with the scanner. One of them could be that the technology requires students’ hands to be dry, and sometimes that’s problematic for children. Another problem may occur if students have to take one of their hands off a full tray.
“Since the student has to put their finger on the pad, they won’t have two hands on the tray,” Taylor said. “One concern I have is there that might be spillage. Of course, we replace it if it spills, but that’s already a little shaky. I don’t know how it’s going to go.”
Taylor said he received feedback from parents who were concerned about the cost of a project that might not even be implemented long-term. However, Sodexo, the school district’s food caterer, has funded the pilot project entirely.
That could change if the district decided to implement the program at all schools. Taylor said they’ll need to see expedited lunch lines before the district considers a full-scale change.
If it happens, the district could implement the system across all schools starting next year.