Gretna, Nebraska parent Justin Osterfoss doesn’t like the idea of Gretna Public Schools scanning his son’s fingerprints to track his daily lunch purchases, and he’s not the only one.
Osterfoss told WOWT that when he got a notice from his son’s elementary school last month informing him the boy was automatically enrolled in a new biometric fingerprint scanning system to track school lunches, he raised objections with the school district and posted about the issue on Facebook.
“The email states they aren’t going to store the fingerprints, but they have to have some sort of recognition of this and who it’s identifying,” he said. “I understand the world changes and the world is moving on with more technology, but as of right now I don’t feel comfortable with the biometrics.”
“That information has to go somewhere. It has to be stored somewhere,” he said.
Osterfoss’ Facebook post revealed many other parents share his perspective.
Aside from obvious privacy concerns, Osterfoss thinks the new system removes a good opportunity to teach students a valuable lesson.
“You need to be able to learn and do your own responsibilities, whether that’s memorizing a lunch code, whether that’s to hold on to my lunch card, not let anyone take it,” he said. “You can have your personal identification taken. You can change your Social Security number. You can change a password. You can change your bank account number. You can’t change your fingerprint.”
Osterfoss has a crazy notion that parents should have the authority to opt their children out of biometric programs, but it remains unclear whether district officials agree. He called district officials several times but never heard back.
The district issued a prepared statement about the lunch system, pointing out it’s already in place in two middle schools and a high school, but did not clarify options for parents.
The message: Convenience trumps privacy.
“We have found that the process speeds up the lunch line or prevents the occasional issues of students entering the wrong lunch number,” the statement read.
Osterfoss said he plans to send his son to school with cash.
The father’s struggle is becoming increasingly common as schools across the country turn to biometric scanners to track students in the system.
Parents in New Jersey, Oregon, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and other states have objected to schools implementing fingerprint scanners or other biometric devices in the lunch line with varying degrees of success, EAGnews reports.
Parents at Gaffney Lane Elementary School in Oregon City, Oregon raised a ruckus in 2016 when they learned the school started scanning little fingers without notifying them. The school was overwhelmed with so many complaints officials decided to delay implementation to design a way for parents to opt their kids out, according to KOIN.
It was a similar situation the same year in Englewood, New Jersey, where parents were notified by an automated call with little information about new lunchroom fingerprint scanners. Parents complained that even students not in the federal lunch program, those who packed their lunches, were scanned into the system. District officials countered the scanners were installed to better control outstanding lunch balances and increase free and reduced price lunch reimbursements from the federal government, EAGnews reports.
Parents in Englewood were also provided an opt-out option, though few knew realized it.
The nonprofit Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, launched by two parents concerned about tech companies spying on students, developed a tool kit last year to help parents protect their children’s privacy at school.
The Parent Coalition teamed with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood to develop the “Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy,” which outlines federal laws protecting student privacy, as well as student and parent rights in regards to private information shared with schools.
The kit goes through the numerous ways schools collect information on students – from basics like age, sex, and grades to intimate details like health issues, food selections, and school surveys on religious or personal beliefs – and how that information is distributed to the government and third party vendors.