Moss Bluff Elementary School in Louisiana is looking to streamline lunch payments by implementing a palm vein scanner program, but some parents aren't pleased.
A letter to parents this week informed them of the new scanner that will allow the school's nearly 1,000 students to move through the lunch line faster and with fewer payment mistakes -- an issue that had arisen in the past, KPLC-TV reports.
While the letter notes that parents can opt their children out of the program, parent Mamie Sonnier told KPLC-TV that she was angry and disappointed by the program, as the scanner violates her beliefs. She contends that if the scanners actually make it to the school cafeteria, she'll be transferring her kids to another school.
"As a Christian, I've read the Bible, you know go to church and stuff," Sonnier said. "I know where it's going to end up coming to, the mark of the beast. I'm not going to let my kids have that."
Calderara notes that it's just "technology that is used throughout our lives. Everywhere."
Florida's Pinellas Schools were the first to adopt palm scanning technology to pay for lunch last fall under a voluntary program. The technology uses infrared light to read unique vein patterns connected to meal plans.
"It's two seconds to buy a meal. Literally, two seconds," Edward Rutenbeck, senior user support analyst with Pinellas Schools Food Services told WTSP.
Recent implementation of palm scanners for lunch payment stirred controversy in Mississippi's Pearl Public Schools, but not for religious reasons. Parents there were concerned that the new scanners, costing the district $3,500, takes tax dollars away from more pertinent school funding areas.
Pearl Schools Superintendent Ray Morgigno told WAPT, however, that the increased payment accuracy allowed by the scanners will save the district money in the long run.
Palm scanners could also be seen as a response to hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt incurred by school districts from unpaid lunch fees. As parents have failed to pay off lunch bills, districts have been forced to foot the cost. Coupled with budget cuts and climbing costs, several districts across the country have resorted to hiring debt collectors, employing constables and switching out regular meals for lesser versions in a push to get parents to pay up.
As of last February, New York City schools had absorbed some $42 million in unpaid lunch fees since 2004, according to The New York Times. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina recently appropriated $40,000 to cover unpaid lunch fees, the Daily Tar Heel reports.
Columbus City Schools in Ohio in March turned unpaid accounts over to a collection agency in an effort to recover about $900,000 in unpaid lunch fees.
And while 70 percent of district students qualify for free lunches, Columbus City Schools still loses about $2,622 a day on unpaid lunches, The Columbus Dispatch reports.
To help alleviate the problem, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying out different policies and practices as part of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to determine whether national requirements can be created. It is also working to identify more students whose parents do not apply for free or reduced-price meals, but are eligible to do so. A USDA pilot program would match school attendance records and Medicaid recipients in six states, beginning next year, Education Week reports.
Students are also returning to school this year under new school lunch guidelines to ensure students are given healthier options. The changes are part of a healthy school lunch initiative put forth in January by first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack calling for more whole grains and produce as well as less sodium and fat in school meals.
While the measures mark a step forward from previous years, they still compromised amid push-back from Congress to keep pizza and french fries on the menu -- counting both the tomato paste on pizza and the potatoes that make fries as vegetables.