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Fla. District Considers Student-Fingerprint Scanners

by guest blogger Mike Bock

In response to an anonymous survey of Palm Beach County principals, the 171,000-student district is considering implementing fingerprint scans, or biometrics, for student bus riders, lunch purchases, and other uses, according to school officials.

In the survey, commissioned by the district's support operations staff, 60 percent of Palm Beach principals said they would like to see biometrics in schools to help take attendance, borrow materials from the library, or make cafeteria purchases. "Based on the responses to the biometrics survey we will seek Board approval to pursue a pilot use on school buses based on information learned from the previous pilot in school cafeterias and media centers," Joseph Sanches, the school district chief of support operations, wrote in a blog post.

Biometrics in schools isn't a recent phenomenon, as some schools have been using fingerprint scans for more than a decade. CBS ran a story about a school using fingerprint scanning to help lunch lines move faster way back in 2001. Washington County, Fla., has used a scanning system similar to the one proposed in Palm Beach for attendance purposes since last year.

However, there are a number of variables to sort out first, including the not-so-warm embrace of the new technology from district parents. As The Palm Beach Post reported:

"Palm Beach County has dabbled in fingerprint technology in the past, with pilot projects in some school cafeterias like Don Estridge High Tech Middle School in Boca Raton. Food Services General Manager Allison Monbleau said that pilot was stopped about three years ago because parents had to sign and return a form to opt into the system. It only really worked if most of the majority of parents opted their children in, she said, or else the lunch line is slowed by too many children still entering their access codes.

Unfortunately, Monbleau said, few parents opted in at the pilot schools. As a result, the effectiveness of the biometric technology was hampered."

Aside from typical concerns about privacy rights and the cost of the devices, there is the tricky issue of where to place the scanners on the buses. Local NBC affiliate WJHG describes the situation Washington County dealt with:

"One of the biggest challenges they've faced is where to put the devices on the buses. State safety codes require the aisles to be kept completely clear, so one of the ideas they've discussed is to put a laptop on one side of the steering wheel and the finger scan system on the other."

Palm Beach County has a history of embracing new technology. Sanches has also proposed using video cameras to catch drivers who speed through stop signs on the sides of school buses.

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