Plans To Scan Student Fingerprints Called Off

Plans to start a student finger-scanning system at University High School to make lunch lines and record keeping more efficient have been stopped by the Irvine Unified School District after parents complained of its possible Big Brother effect.

The high school was to use the new technology to make it faster and easier for students to buy meals, check out books, register their attendance, and buy school event tickets.

It could have many different uses, said Chuck Keith, assistant principal at the high school. Keith came up with the idea after watching a special about school technology on CNN. The project was put on hold after parents complained about the "new millennium technology," he said.

"It ruffled some feathers," Keith said.

Ted Faison, a parent of a University senior, had concerns about the legality and constitutionality of fingerprinting students. He decided to try to stop the school from implementing the project after receiving a letter from the school Friday stating the school was to begin scanning the 2,300-plus students starting Monday. The laser fingertip ID system was to begin after winter break on Jan. 8, according to the letter. He met with school administrators and Tom Dunphy, senior vice president of the scanning company, identiMetrics Inc., who was on campus at the time. Faison and a few other parents complained to the district about the project. The school put a hold on the project.

"I did not want my daughter being fingerprinted," Faison said. "I didn't want any of the students being fingerprinted. Students are not criminals."

With a student biometric finger scan, a computer program creates a template of fingerprint characteristics from two fingers. The software scans the ridges and points of the fingerprint to create an individual numerical identification for each person. No fingerprint images are stored--only numerical representations of the points. There is no way to take the data to reconstruct or copy a fingerprint image, according to identiMetrics.

The plan was not reviewed by the district and was the administrators' choice, district spokesman Ian Hanigan said. The district discontinued plans Tuesday for at least the rest of the year pending review. University High would have been the first Orange County public school to use finger-scanning technology in cafeterias.

Across the country, dozens of schools and colleges have used finger scanners as alternatives to cash transactions in lunchrooms since 2001. Three elementary schools in Santa Barbara could have the scanners in place early next year, making them the first in California. Several other schools in Pennsylvania connected the scanners to the Web so parents can keep tabs on what their children eat for lunch. University High and other district schools have a system in which students push in a code to deduct funds from their accounts.

Although the system would have made lunch more efficient, students and faculty care more and fear that Big Brother may be watching, said Tom Poulos, a senior on the associated student body.

"It seems too invasive," Poulos said. "It seems a little too much."

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Conroe ISD To Improve Emergency Response with SASI

Conroe Independent School District (CISD) in Conroe, TX has contracted with SASI Consulting to work on the district's emergency response and preparedness programs in conjunction with Harris County Department of Education. Last summer the district received a grant from the United States Department of Education for the purpose.

CISD is one of 74 districts to receive, in total, $23 million in grants from DOE to strengthen emergency response and preparedness. SASI assisted CISD in obtaining its DOE grant back in 2006.

According to the consulting firm, "The Federal Emergency Response and Crisis Management program provides funds to help local education agencies prevent or mitigate, prepare, respond and recover from crises. Funds can be used to train school personnel and students in crisis response; communicate emergency response and reunification procedures to parents and guardians; coordinate with local emergency responders, including fire and police; purchase equipment; and coordinate with groups and organizations responsible for recovery issues, such as health and mental health agencies. This year, school districts must also commit to developing a written plan designed to prepare for a possible infectious disease outbreak, such as influenza pandemic."

CISD will develop its plan over the next year beginning later this month.

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Castleberry Installs Rapid Responder

Castleberry Independent School District (CISD) in Texas has installed a crisis management system called Rapid Responder from Prepared Response. CISD had been awarded an Emergency Response and Crisis Management grant for more than $100,000 and, as part of the grant, will install Rapid Responder in all of the its elementary, middle and high schools, as well as administration facilities.

The Rapid Responder system, according to Prepared Response, "provides school security, police, fire, and other first responders with key information that allows them to act quickly, decisively, and in a coordinated response with other responders." The system includes pre-planning meetings, system training for school staff members and responders and digital mapping of school buildings, including floor plans, GIS data and other information.

"Castleberry ISD has always prided itself on working closely with emergency personnel to protect our students and staff," said Gary Jones, CISD superintendent, in a prepared statement. "The cutting-edge, all-hazards Rapid Responder system takes our emergency planning to a new level by improving coordination and response during a crisis. It allows response agencies to develop crisis plans before an event occurs, thus saving time during an emergency."

Castleberry ISD serves 3,335 students in eight schools and employs 446 staff members in the Fort Worth, Texas area.

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