Akron students will be fingerprinted beginning this fall to
identify them in school lunch lines.
After a lengthy debate, school board members voted 5-2 Tuesday to
spend $700,000 on a controversial, modernized cafeteria system.
Board members Rebecca Heimbaugh and Mary Stormer voted ``no,''
mirroring the concerns of parents about the cost and privacy issue
involved with fingerprinting students.
``I do not believe that any parent or any student has ever had
the expectation that in order to go through the lunch line or to buy
a cookie or carton of milk that they or their children would be
requested to first be fingerprinted,'' said Heimbaugh, who says she
will probably refuse to have her three children in the Akron schools
This state-of-the art, futuristic technology is only being used
in one other Ohio school district -- Garfield Heights.
The system will replace the meal-ticket method that has been used
in Akron middle and high school cafeterias for nearly two decades.
It will not be used -- at least initially -- in elementary
Students' fingerprints will be put into a scanner that will make
a template of binary numbers corresponding with the unique swirls
and arches of each print. When students go through the lunch line,
they will place their finger on a scanner that will identify them
based on the stored template.
Designers of the system say the original fingerprints will be
School board members received numerous phone calls and e-mails
from parents with privacy concerns about their children being
fingerprinted. Those opposed to the system will have the option of
having their children use an identification card.
Board members discussed the merits and drawbacks of the system
for nearly 45 minutes before finally voting. Each member spoke,
explaining the reasons for his or her vote.
Stormer called the system ``extravagant,'' especially because the
district is facing further cuts in state funding.
``I think $700,000 is a lot of tax revenue -- from any source,''
The money for the system will come from the budget for Child
Nutrition Services, a department that is self-sufficient. This
department is funded with a combination of state and federal tax
dollars and the money spent on school lunches.
Several school board members said they see the new system as an
improvement over the current method. It will include new
touch-screen registers, software, fingerprint imaging scanners,
staff training and maintenance.
``I think we need to enter the 21st century,'' said board member
Linda Kersker. ``We need to move forward and not backward.''
Kersker said the stored templates could not be used in the same
way that police rely on fingerprints.
``I do not see this as much different than a photo ID,'' she
said. ``It is simply more reliable.''
Board President Linda Omobien said the system will enable
cafeteria workers to more easily track the number of free and
reduced lunches, which they now accomplish by hand-counting meal
tickets. She said this is ``ludicrous'' in modern times.
School leaders spent several years researching an alternative for
the district's cafeteria system, which includes outdated cash
registers that regularly break down. They looked at systems that use
cards or personal identification numbers.
Debra Foulk, coordinator of the Akron schools' Child Nutrition
Services, said these methods were less reliable and cost about the
same as the one relying on fingerprints. She said children often
lose cards -- just as they now misplace meal tickets -- and forget
The new system will be piloted in one Akron middle school -- that
has not yet been chosen -- this fall. It will be phased into Akron's
17 other middle and high schools during the school year.
Raymond Vasvari, legal director for the American Civil Liberties
Union, said systems like the one adopted by Akron raise serious
privacy issues. He said school leaders need to take steps to ensure
that the fingerprint images don't end up in the wrong hands.
``The question remains -- is there information that would be
useful to someone and how can you be sure this information is not
shared?'' he said.
Board member Curtis Walker, who voted for the system, agreed that
school leaders need to keep a close eye on the privacy concerns.
``We need to watch this carefully and make sure the issue of
privacy does not hurt us in the end,'' he said.