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LAUSD tries out lunchtime fingerprint scans

October 4, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A high-tech idea of the Los Angeles Unified School District has run into a lot of questions. The district wants to use a "finger scan" system to save money, speed up cafeteria lines and eliminate the problem of forgotten lunch money. Some are worried about student privacy.Whether it's sloppy joes, a slice of pizza or just a carton of milk, every item in the school cafeteria must be paid for. And with thousands of students going through lunch lines every day, officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District have found one way to make the process more efficient, with a touch of a finger.

"It's very safe. The children don't have to bring money to school," said Foshay Learning Center Principal Yvonne Edwards.

Edwards says James A. Foshay Learning Center in South L.A. was the first school in the district to try out the technology in a pilot program.

Edwards says not has only the scanner made it easier for students who tend to forget their lunch money, but it also masks which students pay for their food with subsidized meal tickets.

"When people knew that they were on free or reduced lunch, especially at the high school level, no one wanted anyone to know, so sometimes they would not eat. But the great thing about it is that everyone can eat now. Everyone does eat, and they feel good about eating," said Edwards.

But the American Civil Liberties Union and some parents are worried about privacy.

"We don't use fingerprint identification to pay for our groceries at the grocery store or our clothes at a department store," said ACLU attorney Peter Bibring. "So why would we ask our children to provide their fingerprints to pay for lunches at school?"

"It doesn't seem right because they're only kids," said parent Roy Smith. "So I don't really think it's necessary to fingerprint them for them to get something to eat."

But no school will be forced to adopt the new system. In fact, individual students can opt out. Instead of scanning their finger, they'll have to type in a seven-digit code on a PIN pad.

District officials say unlike a full fingerprint, the machines only capture a partial image. They say each print is then discarded and replaced by a numerical number to identify a student for the school year.

Some students have mixed feelings about the program.

"Sometimes the line can take long because the machine don't work," said student Jeffrey Flores.

"Sometimes [I think it's weird] because what if they use it for something else?" said student Elizabeth Garcia.

The district will be spreading the technology to all schools that accept it by 2012.


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