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Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
A finger scanner has replaced student ID numbers as a billing method in lunch line at Juan Diego Catholic High. The scanner also tracks purchase information.

Juan Diego Catholic High School is serving lunch with a touch of French defense technology.

The Draper school, along with St. John the Baptist elementary and middle schools at its Skaggs Catholic Center campus, is using fingerprint technology to better move kids through the lunch line, account for food charges and help parents track what their kids eat for lunch.

"Eating habits are a thing to work on," systems administrator Eric Browning said. "Parents need to see their kids are eating three fries and a Coke."

The finger scan device replaces a student ID number as a billing method in the lunch line. The approximately 1,800 students at the campus put their index finger on the scan, and their purchases are entered into a computer with specialized buttons, which include a daily meal special, cookies and other items.

Student fingerprints are not stored in the system, Browning said — just an encrypted "biometric token," or a few points on print patterns for positive identification.

The finger scanning is derived from a French defense company and exceeds FBI requirements for image quality, Browning said.

"(Parents) are confident about it and it's been an extremely positive response," Browning said.

Such technology is found in a few school cafeterias nationwide — representatives from Browning's school saw it in action at a California Catholic high school.

But none of Utah's more than 900 public schools use the fingerprint technology, said Luann Shipley, child nutrition director at the State Office of Education.

School districts here typically input student ID numbers to debit prepaid student lunch accounts and use specialized buttons to identify purchases, said Jodi Vlam, Murray District nutrition program supervisor. Parents can request their students' purchasing history, and even put blocks on more expensive and less healthy a la carte items, like pizza and ice cream, she said.

So why not go with a fingerprint?

"It's a little bit pricey for districts," Vlam said.

The system cost about $20,000, Browning said. Still, his schools expect a healthy return on the investment.

The scan addresses a few issues.

It's expected to move the lunch line through a little faster, Browning said.

It also prevents kids from using each others' ID numbers and boosts accountability for student purchases. Say a student is charged four times at a single lunch for a cinnamon roll. When a parent contests the charge, the money is refunded. But the finger scan can tell if a student really did buy that many treats — maybe to give to friends, Browning said.

Also, student purchases are reported on PowerSchool, a common Web-based student information system that parents regularly access. The school can track what's selling and adjust inventory. And parents, hopefully, can guide students to select healthier foods, said Jan Selmer, director of food services for the Skaggs Catholic Center.

Meantime, the school is offering healthier snacks, including baked chips, and is turning a snack shack into a pasta bar, Selmer said.

It's not yet known whether the system has inspired students to eat healthier.

But a parent committee meeting is scheduled at month's end to get program input.

"I'm hoping for that parent input to encourage the children to make healthier choices," Selmer said.


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