Implemented in high schools two years ago, then in middle schools and some elementary schools last year, a high-tech payment system for cafeterias is coming to the rest of the Muscogee County School District.
Twenty-one of the district's 32 elementary schools represent the final phase of installing the Meral Computing Services software and Fujitsu PalmSecure hardware. The system uses the same near-infrared technology that's in a TV remote control or a Wii video game.
According to the district's news release, the device takes a super high-resolution infrared photograph of the vein pattern just below the skin, which is a unique marker, like a fingerprint. The image, between 1.5 and 2.5 square inches, is recorded, digitized and stored on an encrypted server. When students come through the cafeteria line, they can hold their hand over a black box that scans the palm and links it to their meal account.
Susan Schlader, the district's school nutrition director, said in the release, "It's a secure way to ensure a student's identity when paying for a school meal, decreases the time students may spend in line, and takes less than four seconds to complete each sale."
Valerie Fuller, the district's communications director, added in an email to the Ledger-Enquirer, "In the past, 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. The palm scan capability increases the time available to eat lunch for students by reducing unnecessary time waiting in the meal line."
The scanning system enables the district to have "100 percent accountability" and meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for meal counting and claiming, Schlader said. "The goal is to limit instances where students can use someone else's account for meal purchases," she said.
Asked for the overall cost of this project, Schlader said it is $26,200 over three years.
Asked for any statistical evidence that the new technology has benefited the district the past two years in high schools and the past year in middle schools, Schlader said she didn't have overall numbers available, but she gave two examples: Comparing the 2013-14 school year without the palm scanning to the 2014-15 school year with the palm scanning, Dorothy Height Elementary School reduced its cafeteria payment errors from 724 (when Dorothy Height students were in the now-closed Cusseta Road and Muscogee Elementary schools) to eight, and South Columbus Elementary reduced its cafeteria payment errors from 111 to 0.
Participation in the scanning system is voluntary. Parents and guardians may allow their child to opt out by notifying the school in writing. Students who don't use the palm scan must bring a student ID to the cafeteria to purchase a meal.
Parents and guardians may pre-pay their child's meals online by accessing the "For Parents" link at www.muscogee.k12.ga.us and clicking on the "Pay for School Meals" icon. Parents and guardians must use their child's ID number, which can be obtained from the school. Unused money in the child's account from last school year automatically will be available for the 2015-16 school year. The district doesn't accept personal checks for meal payments.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow him on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.
SCHOOLS GETTING PALM SCANNING
These 21 schools represent the final phase of the Muscogee County School District's three-year installment of the palm scanning system to pay for meals:
Allen Elementary School
Blanchard Elementary School
Brewer Elementary School
Britt David Magnet Academy
Clubview Elementary School
Dawson Elementary School
Dimon Elementary School
Downtown Elementary Magnet Academy
Gentian Elementary School
Georgetown Elementary School
Hannan Elementary Magnet Academy
Johnson Elementary School
Key Elementary School
North Columbus Elementary School
Reese Road Leadership Academy
River Road Elementary School
St. Marys Road Elementary Magnet Academy
Waddell Elementary School
Wesley Heights Elementary School
Wynnton Arts Academy