Kealakehe Elementary School fifth-grader Preston Rietow gets checked in for lunch Thursday by using the identiMetrics finger scanning identification system. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to WHT)
Kealakehe Elementary School fourth-grader Keanu Mareko gets his lunch Thursday before checking out by scanning his finger on the school’s new identiMetrics system. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
The majority of Kealakehe Elementary School students are giving cafeteria workers the finger — their index finger to be exact.
This school year, Kealakehe Elementary began using a new system that allows students to use their finger to check in and pay for their meals, rather than holding up the line and searching for their meal tickets. “Too often” meal tickets would get lost between the classroom and cafeteria, resulting in staff having to reprint them, said Janet Mazzie, the At Promise counselor who overseas the school’s system.
“Students will always have their finger with them,” she said.
Besides speeding up lines and reducing headaches caused by the easily lose-able meal tickets or forgotten money, the biometric finger scanning identification system, called identiMetrics, also keeps an accurate record of which students ate and when. It has also increased the time students, especially the older ones, have by five to 10 minutes to eat or enjoy the following recess, Mazzie said.
Another benefit is office staff no longer have to spend a lot of time sorting and distributing meal tickets or dealing with the exchange of money, she added.
With the press of a finger, the system scans the digit and the unique points are identified. The points are then transferred to a binary number. The fingerprint is destroyed. The number is encrypted and is linked to the student’s identification number. When a student returns to be identified, his finger is again scanned. The computer software compares the new template with others in the database. Once the template is found, the student is identified — a process completed in seconds, Mazzie said.
While enjoying their lunch Thursday, fifth-graders Lurinad Alokoa, 11, and Roselyn Esau, 10, described the finger scanning as “really cool, easy and fast.” Alokoa said what she and her friends like most about the system is there’s nothing to lose or worry about. “You just show up and press,” Esau added. They estimated they get to eat and go to recess at least 15 minutes faster — a fact they deemed “really important.”
Kealakehe Elementary has 1,045 kindergarten through fifth-grade students. Parents of 24 students have decided to keep their children out of the program, which is not mandatory, because of their own beliefs and concerns, Mazzie said. At any point, for whatever reason, parents can choose to not have their child participate, she added.
The overall acceptance of biometrics has risen substantially over the past few years following the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. In numerous states, including California, the practice of scanning students’ fingerprints is commonplace in lunchrooms, libraries and buses, as well as for classroom attendances, athletics events, school programs and field trips. However, such systems still face opposition from parents and civil liberties groups nationwide who are concerned about student privacy and security. Some states and school districts have even banned such technology, which was first introduced at least five years ago.
Mazzie said “at no time is a fingerprint image ever stored and no fingerprints can be recreated from the template” — something the school has communicated to parents and staff. Since last year, the school has been talking about the system, including in newsletters, she added. Mazzie also explained the school, despite implementing the system four to five weeks ago, is still in the “learning stage,” and problems occasionally arise, but the overall feeling is “the pilot is going smoothly.”
Mazzie said Kealakehe Elementary’s former vice principal learned about the technology from Kealakehe High School, which runs a similar program. She deferred the inquiry regarding the system’s cost to Kealakehe Elementary Principal Nancy Matsukawa, who was attending a meeting Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
Kealakehe High Principal Wil Murakami said this is the third year his campus has used a finger scanning system, which he said has “many benefits and no drawbacks.” Murakami thinks the technology has certainly brought the cafeteria into the 21st century and the information age by providing faster access to information. He sees the implementation of biometrics at schools as “a natural evolution.”
When the technology was first introduced, the school had to educate the community and parents about it. So far, everyone has taken to the voluntary system, which is “working well,” and most of the students and staff like it, Murakami said.
Not having to deal on a regular basis with the loss of lunch money or meal cards is a blessing for Kealakehe High, which had 1,540 students last year and has roughly 1,400 students this year, Murakami said. He did not know the total of students who were not participating in the finger scanning, or the name and cost of the system. These inquiries and other specifics about the school’s system were deferred to Vice Principal Alan Vogt. Attempts to reach Vogt for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.
Murakami said Kealakehe High would like to eventually look into the logistics of getting a wireless finger scanning system that would allow teachers to take attendance.
Department of Education spokeswoman Sandy Goya said this is the third year Palolo Elementary School in Honolulu has used finger scanning in its cafeteria, and the school has 315 students. According to Pennsylvania-based identiMetrics Inc., Waiakea Elementary School in Hilo uses its system.
Glenna Owens, director of the state’s School Food Services Branch, said implementing the technology is a school-based decision, not DOE’s. She was unaware Kealakehe Elementary was doing finger scanning in its cafeteria until reached Wednesday by the newspaper.