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SACS moves forward with fingerprint tracking policy

A plan to move forward with a policy for a new high-tech fingerprint tracking program for Southwest Allen County School lunches was approved Tuesday.

SACS board members voted 4-1 in favor of a biometric scanning policy that will go into effect during the 2014-15 school year.

Board member Tim Loomis voted against the policy, citing concerns about the way parents will be asked to give consent for the district to obtain students’ fingerprints.

Loomis said parents should be asked to check “yes” or “no” rather than automatically having children enrolled in the program if no response is received.The policy was approved Tuesday, but the board will meet again in the coming months to give final approval for the devices to be installed, SACS Business Manager Jim Coplen said.

“We wanted to have a policy in place so we could show parents the way the program would work and the corresponding policies,” Coplen explained.

If the devices are approved, a biometric scanning system designed to read fingerprints will be installed next school year by identiMetrics, a company in Pennsylvania.

The district plans to pilot the program in four schools – Covington and Deer Ridge elementary schools, Woodside Middle School and Homestead High School.

IdentiMetrics has been assisting schools with implementing finger scanning identification since 2002, according to the company’s website.

The system works by taking a fingerprint and identifying several major markers from the print. Those markers are then converted to a number, which is linked to the students’ identification number.

Coplen said it would not be possible to determine a student’s identity by reversing the process, therefore eliminating privacy concerns.

District officials said they have not heard many concerns from parents since the topic was first introduced a year ago, but plan to hold several meetings in the next couple months to answer questions and hear concerns.

Parents would also be given the option to opt-out of the program.

The biometric information will be destroyed within 60 days after a student’s graduation or withdrawal from the district or if the students’ legal guardian requests the students’ information be removed.

The district would pay $32,314 to install devices in all cafeterias. That amount will be paid for through the food-service fund. The system at Southwest Allen would start with the food-service department but could later expand to include buses and classrooms – allowing the district to track where students are at all times, Coplen said.

If the district later decides to add units to buses, classrooms or other areas, each unit would cost $789.

This isn’t the first time biometric scanning has been introduced in an Allen County school district. Northwest Allen County Schools began using Identimetrics for middle and high school student lunches four years ago, Superintendent Chris Himsel said.

Fort Wayne Community Schools piloted a program in one of the district’s schools last year, but found it did not affect lunch line times as officials had hoped, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.

“Parents and students were not concerned about the security of using biometrics, but students had to frequently re-scan their finger and often had to enter their pin in the end, so it actually slowed down the lines,” Stockman said.

East Allen County Schools officials could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

jcrothers@jg.net

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