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News Update

Replacing Lunch Money with Hand Scanners

Gone are the days of crumpled bills at Carroll County Public Schools in Baltimore, Md. A cafeteria sales system implemented this school year uses a high-tech infrared hand scanner to access student accounts with pre-deposited money, to speed up time spent in the lunch line. However, some parents are concerned with their child’s security, especially since they were not informed of the change until the scanners were already in place.

The scanners are used so the electronic cash register can access information from a student database and account. Parents can pre-pay for meals, and check their child’s balance and purchases online, and limit snack purchases if they choose. This point-of-sales system has been used in schools for over 20 years, and accounts were previously accessed with cards or PIN pads, according to Karen Sarno, the Carroll County supervisor of food services.

The scanner is the next step in the technology’s evolution, she adds, and will allow for four to six-plus transactions per minute (an average of 25 students moving through the line every five minutes), rather than the prior rate of three transactions per minute, giving students more time to eat lunch. The scanner, called PalmSecure, examines a few points on a student’s hand and converts them into a numeric algorithm that is stored in the computer. Sarno says that there is no way to store the actual print, as the scan is immediately deleted after the matching algorithm is created, so only the algorithm stays in the system. “There is no image that could erroneously or otherwise be shared with anyone,” Sarno says. “We thought it was reasonable to give it a chance to get better line speed and overcome the challenges of students losing cards or pin numbers.”

Despite this reassurance, at the time of this writing, between 3 percent and 15 percent of parents opted out at each of the five Carroll County schools that now use PalmSecure, Sarno says, some in fear of their children’s information being accessed by someone outside of school in the future. Some parents also believe the scanners will make it harder for young children to recognize privacy threats outside of school, and easily submit to fingerprinting or giving information to unsafe sources. Instead of scanning their hands, these students will give the cashier their names to access their accounts manually.

Sarno said the district will give parents more notice before they install the system in a new school. The district also has a webpage with details.

The PalmSecure system is used in schools nationwide, and was first implemented in a Florida district last year. Created by the Japanese information and communication technology company Fujitsu, PalmSecure is also used in the healthcare field (for patient registration and staff attendance), banking (for accessing accounts without an ATM card), and other businesses. It is planned to be in all 43 Carroll County schools by December 2013.

To learn more about PalmSecure, visit