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Students will start using fingerprints in the lunch line

School District 833 students might soon be using their fingers to pay for lunch instead of tapping in personal identification numbers.

Nutrition Services got the go-ahead from the school board Feb. 21, to test a fingerprint system for 90 days at Cottage Grove Elementary School to see if it speeds up lunch lines.

The program will take time to implement, said TITLE Barb Osthus.

Superintendent Tom Nelson said parents must be fully informed about the system and have opportunities to get their questions answered.

The PIN system will stay in place, Osthus said, in case there are parents who do not want their children using fingerprint technology.

The technology converts fingerprints into numeric codes that can only be accessed by through fingers. The information is one-way, according to Bob Engen, president of Educational Biometric Technology.

If data is stolen, there is no way to retrieve information without actual student fingers pressing the pad, according to Engen. The system does not store actual fingerprints, only numeric codes.

A fingerprint identity system would solve two problems, Osthus said.

In the first months of school, kindergartners and first-graders, who are already nervous about being school lunchrooms, have difficulty keyboarding PIN numbers, which slows down lunch lines.

"This is frustrating for our elementary-age customers and they tell their parents they did not get to eat because the lines were so long," Osthus said.

In secondary schools, student use and steal PIN numbers from other students several times a year. With biometric technology, this could not happen, she said.

Having the system in place would not reduce the need for lunchroom attendants, Osthus said, because monitoring is still needed at the end of the line to make sure federal lunch requirements are being met.

Cold viruses can be transmitted but are also on many lunchroom surfaces, Engen said, in response to Board Chair Ron Kath's question about cleanliness and product durability.

The cost of setting up one fingerprint station is $900. The system only works with Windows, and can sync with existing district computer systems. Fingerprint pads would be guaranteed for one year with support and upgrades, according to Engen.

East Ridge High School Principal Aaron Harper is also mulling biometric identity systems for the school, which is under construction in Woodbury.

In addition to tracking lunch purchases, student arrivals and departures from the nurse's office could be tracked, including signing in for medications.

The system could also be used to keep track of textbooks and books in the school's media center.

It could also function as a student identification system at school events including dances and seniors leaving the building for lunch.

For more information about the fingerprint system, go to

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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