Hawkins County schools' cafeterias may go to high-tech IDs

Jeff Bobo • Jul 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — What do a delicious Hawkins County school lunch and “biometric identification” have in common?

Very soon students may not be able to get one without the other.

Hawkins County Schools food services supervisor Alice Snodgrass is proposing a new lunchroom cafeteria identification system for lunch credits.

Biometric identification is a technical name for what is more commonly referred to as “finger scan.”

Currently students use a system that requires them to enter the last four digits of their Social Security number into a panel to receive their lunch credit.

Snodgrass told the Hawkins County Board of Education Tuesday evening the current system is too slow and is susceptible to theft by sneaky children looking over the shoulder of the fellow in line ahead of them to steal their code.

“The child’s finger would be scanned, but it is not a fingerprint,” Snodgrass told the board. “I feel very confident that this will cut down on the theft and will be much easier for the children to put their finger in this little scanner than it will be to remember numbers. And it will be much quicker as the children go through the line.”

The new system would cost about $10,000.

As opposed to fingerprinting, which captures the rolled images of all 10 fingers, this system uses the flat images of only two fingers. The scan identifies a limited number of unique characteristics of the index finger and converts them into numbers, which become that child’s lunch code number.

Snodgrass assured board members that the finger images are stored only in the cafeteria computer system, are deleted upon graduation, and aren’t shared with anyone — not even other school departments. Only cafeteria personnel would have access to the system, and only at lunchtime.

Any parent wishing for their child not to participate in the finger scan program could opt out and pay with cash, Snodgrass added.

Still, some board members were apprehensive about the new system.

Board member Kathy Cradic suggested the technology is a bit intimidating and advanced for a school cafeteria.

Board member Perry Dykes suggested that the $10,000 would be better spent offsetting the lunch price increase approved by the board last month and setting prices back to last year’s level.

Snodgrass noted, however, that eventually all school cafeterias will be moving to this system.

“I don’t know if we’re ready for this yet,” board Chairman Robert Stidham said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of concern from parents. We need to talk about this some more and get some input from the community before taking any action.”

The board voted Tuesday to put the proposal on the agenda for the August regular monthly meeting, at which time Snodgrass will give a Power Point presentation that fully explains the system.

In other business Tuesday the board:

•Heard a report from Director of Schools Charlotte Britton that Bulls Gap School secretary Sue Farmer and bus driver Robert Brooks will be honored at the upcoming Hawkins County Commission meeting on July 28 for their 50 years of service to the Hawkins County school system.

•Approved the extension of Britton’s contract for one year with the addition of a $300-per-month travel allowance.

•Heard a report from Britton that the annual districtwide Beginning of School orientation meeting is scheduled for Aug. 6 at 8 a.m. at Volunteer High School.

•Approved a low bid of $2.45 million to GRC Construction of Kingsport for construction of the VHS ninth grade academy addition.

•Heard a report from buildings supervisor Jim Hageman that construction bids for the new fifth- and sixth-grade school on the Church hill Middle School campus will be opened July 31.

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