Muscogee County high school cafeterias go high-tech with palm scanners

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 6, 2013 

Special to the Ledger-Enquirer This is one of the palm scanners in Hardaway High School's cafeteria.

High school lunch and breakfast lines will be shorter and the charges more accurate, the Muscogee County School District promises, thanks to a new high-tech system that will debut today during the first day of classes in the 2013-14 school year.

The MCS Software and Fujitsu PalmSecure hardware use the same near-infrared technology in a television remote control or Nintendo Wii video game. The device takes a super high-resolution infrared photograph of the vein pattern just below the skin. The image, between 1.5 and 2.5 square inches, is recorded and digitized. When students come through the cafeteria line, they can hold their hand over a black box which scans the palm and links it to their meal account.

"It's a quick and easy way to help expedite the time spent in the lunch line to purchase meals and helps to ensure accurate, efficient identification of students, funds and reports," Marian Bone, the district's school nutrition director, said in a news release.

The palm scan is hygienic and increases the time available to eat by reducing the time spent in line. The new system takes about 4 seconds to complete a purchase with 99 percent accuracy.

"In the past," Bone said, "if a child did not have their student ID, the cashier would have to search for the student's name and account number, which could take up to a minute or longer."

Participation is voluntary. Parents may allow their child to opt out by notifying the school in writing. Students who do not use the palm scan must bring a student ID to the cafeteria to purchase a meal.

MCSD communications director Valerie Fuller explained in email why the palm scanners aren't in the district's middle schools and elementary schools.

"The technology is in high schools right now because there are a larger number of high school students and it takes much longer to serve them and have all of them get through the lunch line," Fuller said.

The Muscogee County School Board approved buying the new system during its July 22 meeting. The 40 Fujitsu palm scanners at $395.00 each total $15,800, plus a $1,025 Fujitsu scanner to use on applications for free and reduced-price meals.

The district also has a new online meal payment system for all students, www.SchoolPaymentSolutions.com, which allows parents to post money to meal accounts. The link also may be accessed under the "For Parents, Pay for School Lunch" link at www.muscogee.k12.ga.us. The link provides instructions for how to put money in a child's account. Any unused funds that were applied to the child's account last year automatically will roll over to the child's account for 2013-2014. Parents must enroll through the new payment system to add money to the child's account with the child's personal ID number, which can be obtained from the child's school.

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