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Big Brother In the School Cafeteria? 425

Posted by samzenpus
from the getting-an-A-in-cafeteria dept.
AustinSlacker writes "An Iowa school district's lunch program asks children as young as 5 years old to memorize a four-digit PIN code so it can monitor what they eat in the school cafeteria - prompting some parents to claim it's an unhealthy case of 'Big Brother.' An over reaction by parents or an unnecessary invasion of privacy?"
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Big Brother In the School Cafeteria?

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  • by thomasdz (178114) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:12PM (#33515828)

    I predict that at the end of next month, little Debbie Povunktuk will be recorded as eating 500,000 calories all in mashed potatoes.

    C'mon... kids that age share all sorts of things... they won't understand that sharing their secret PIN is wrong. Mainly because their mom&dad said to report anyone that tells them "it'll be our little secret"

    • I predict that at the end of next month, little Debbie Povunktuk will be recorded as eating 500,000 calories all in mashed potatoes.

      C'mon... kids that age share all sorts of things... they won't understand that sharing their secret PIN is wrong. Mainly because their mom&dad said to report anyone that tells them "it'll be our little secret"

      But sharing is evil! The RIAA told me so...

      And remember to say that when politicians ask for money...

    • by wvmarle (1070040) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @10:58PM (#33516606)

      Ftfa: the number will pull up the child's photo so the cashier can verify the identity.

      That little check is in place at least.

      That said children can go and purchase meals for each other. But it's pretty hard to purchase meals on someone else's account.

  • Perhaps an interesting point if the data is accessible to parents and the kids themselves. Some adults I know would pay for this service in the real world... It's time to teach kids what they're eating affects their health.

    That being said, it should be opt-in.
    • It's time to teach kids what they're eating affects their health.

      So basically, tell them not to eat the "food" elementary schools supply at all?

    • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Thursday September 09, 2010 @12:26AM (#33517082) Journal
      "Some adults I know would pay for this service in the real world..."

      In the 60's we had a thing called a "lunch order". The parent would write the lunch order on a plain envelope and put the money inside. This was given to the teacher in the morning and at lunch time the lunch would be delivered to class with your name on it.

      The results were; Kids didn't spend half their lunch time waiting in line, nor could they blow their money on sweets. Parents knew exactly what their kids were getting for lunch, and bullies had little opportunity to steal the money.
  • by morari (1080535) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:13PM (#33515836) Journal

    Schools really should be more mindful of what [i]they[/i] serve. If a kid wants to bring their own lunch that's fine, but the school provided meals should be healthy and balanced. Let's get rid of the candy and soda machines while we're at it. Not only does it promote unhealthy lifestyles, but is a disgusting display of consumerism within a so-called institute of education.

    • by BitterOak (537666)

      Let's get rid of the candy and soda machines while we're at it. Not only does it promote unhealthy lifestyles, but is a disgusting display of consumerism within a so-called institute of education.

      Problem is, these candy and soda machines are often used to fund the schools' athletic programs. So get rid of them in the name of health, and pretty soon the school has no football or basketball team. Which is healthier? Playing sports and cooling off with a cold cola afterward, or drinking water while sitting at home on the couch playing video games? And by the way, healthier alternatives such as juice machines have a much lower profit margin.

      • If I can be modded down for being a troll, can I be modded up for being an orc, or a balrog?

        I would have thought someone with the nickname BitterOak would ask to be modded up for being an Ent.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Symbha (679466)

      People aren't willing to pay for healthy... THAT is the problem.
      Fresh fruits and vegetables are a boatload more expensive the subsidized high fructose corn syrup, and processed industrial food.

      This is how ketchup became a vegetable.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:15PM (#33515864)

    "We're making sure that as they're leaving the lunch line that the menu items they've selected match up with state law, so they're selecting a meal that has all the basic [components] of good nutrition," said school district spokesman Jarrett Peterson. "We're not tracking what each individual child eats."

    If that were true they would not need a PIN, just a pass/fail for whatever is on their tray. Pass you get to go and eat, fail you get back in line and get your vegetables.

    When I was in public school we didn't even have a choice - everybody's meal was exactly the same. Other than outliers with food allergies, why aren't they doing that? No need for any of this technology crap (which, I'd be surprised if it weren't a sweet-heart corporate socialism deal for some company that is owned by a member of the school board) and they probably save money by streamlining preparation and purchasing too.

    • I really, really don't see the big deal here other than they are verifying and tracking what the kids eat. I had essentially the exact same thing when my school implemented lunch cards in like 4th grade. You got your meal, they would take your card and scan it then put in what you eat, it was deducted from your lunch account.

      And as far as I can tell, it was a component of the electronic gradebook that my school had.

      When I got into college it was pretty much the exact same thing, I sorta wish though
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rob the Bold (788862)

      When I was in public school we didn't even have a choice - everybody's meal was exactly the same. Other than outliers with food allergies, why aren't they doing that? No need for any of this technology crap (which, I'd be surprised if it weren't a sweet-heart corporate socialism deal for some company that is owned by a member of the school board) and they probably save money by streamlining preparation and purchasing too.

      I was thinking that myself. I don't recall getting any choice in my cafeteria food until 7th grade, when I could choose lunch 1 or lunch 2. If I really caught a wild hare, I could buy a second milk or an ice cream sandwich.

      There has been a great deal of publicity in Iowa recently about the amount of junk food available in the cafeterias and vending machines in schools. So much so that parents and other citizens have been demanding that the legislature do something to ensure that kids didn't eat only twink

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by stonewallred (1465497)
      Lol, in grade school we had choices at lunch. You could have what they were serving that day, or you could go without.
  • How can they possibly justify the need to monitor what children eat. When they are either eating what their parent gave them or what the school gives them. This is has no purpose other than to get kids used to being monitored. For crying out loud, if you're worried they're eating too much junk, stop giving it to them.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I'll speculate.

      Salesman of expensive system takes school district decision maker out for dinner and whatnot and explains how this will solve their compliance issues - it's high tech after all!

      School guy says, yeah but why don't we just feed them what's required by law?

      Salesguy: But this is high tech! By the way, here's the literature and specs of the system in this briefcase - you can keep this old thing. [fashionindie.com]

      Schoolguy: Well, it is for the good of the children! Where do I sign?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Rob the Bold (788862)

      How can they possibly justify the need to monitor what children eat. When they are either eating what their parent gave them or what the school gives them. This is has no purpose other than to get kids used to being monitored. For crying out loud, if you're worried they're eating too much junk, stop giving it to them.

      Iowa schools were profiting by selling the rights to provide school lunches to outside contractors, who found it more profitable to sell kids junk food. Parents got sick of this and demanded the legislature step in. Some administrator took this mandate a little too far, possibly on purpose.

  • by iamhassi (659463) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:20PM (#33515916) Journal
    recording what our children eat in school is not a bad idea, I don't see it as big brother and the school's response is completely reasonable: "The program is intended to provide the children with more food options while ensuring compliance with new and stricter state-mandated nutrition requirements."

    I would appreciate it if my kid's school would tell me what he was eating or if he was eating.

    Makes sense to me, wonder if these parents complain when their children take state mandated tests.

    Also why is the parent making a huge deal about memorizing 4 numbers? Don't these children know their 7-digit home phone numbers?

    I feel very sorry for whatever teachers and administrators that have to deal with Garry Howe, the parent making a big deal about nothing, hate to see what happens when one of his kids bring home a B!
    • by Fnord666 (889225)

      Also why is the parent making a huge deal about memorizing 4 numbers? Don't these children know their 7-digit home phone numbers?

      According to the article they can't tie their shoes yet, so maybe 4 digits is too much for them.

    • by QuantumFlux (228693) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @11:40PM (#33516872)

      Don't these children know their 7-digit home phone numbers?

      Nope, they just scroll to "Mom" in the Contact List of their cell phones. These *are* 5 year olds; they might not be able to tie their shoes yet but they're not savages!

  • Protest by having all the kids use the same PIN.

    • Protest by having all the kids use the same PIN.

      Sorry, the system is one step ahead of you. Quoth TFA:

      "The PIN pulls up the child's picture for validation"

    • What "system" is there to beat? The way I understand it is like this:

      Billy has a pin of 1234, Billy has an account balance of $35.50, when Billy uses his pin of 1234 and has a $1.50 lunch, it decreases the balance on Billy's account so he has $34 left. Billy's parents can log in and make sure that Billy isn't buying everyone lunch whenever Billy says that he needs more lunch money.

      The idea that this PIN is being used solely for tracking things is silly, its used like a debit card that reports things
  • That's a huge school !
  • ...in my kids' school district, each child receives a 6-digit PIN, in kindergarten. The children are expected to memorize their PINs in kindergarten, where they must use the PIN to purchase lunch. So there's really nothing new under the sun here. Identification numbers are a fact of life: You'll get one in primary and secondary school, you'll get one in college, and then you'll get an employee ID when you get hired on. Every aspect of one's life is dictated by an identification number.

    • Exactly. All three of my children have had to memorize a 6 digit pin, which is also their student ID number. It's not used to monitor what they eat, specifically. It is used to charge the student's account for the meal. We put money into their accounts via an online portal. That way there's no lost lunch money...

      School lunches are set up to be nutritious by design. I think someone read too much into this and Fox is being a bit sensational with their coverage...

  • My kid's school gives them credit card like objects with their picture on them so they can do the same thing but it works great because I can log in and see that my kid ate what I told them to eat.... or at least purchased what I told them to.

  • I used to take $1.25 to school every day for lunch. Today a kid would get robbed and killed for that much. I'm guessing this setup is to monitor food inventory and how much to charge parents' for each kid's food.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I used to take $1.25 to school every day for lunch. Today a kid would get robbed and killed for that much

      Your parents said the same thing when they were your age, and your kids will say the same when they are your age.

  • I don't really see the huge deal here. A lot of it can be technically done already with pre-existing technologies. I remember that my school had lunch cards where they scanned in what you ate with a bar code, granted it only told the prices but once the technology improved I figured that inventory management would be the next thing. I understand the root of the problem, the government should never mandate what someone can and can't eat, on the other hand, its something easy to implement technically and esse
    • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:49PM (#33516110) Journal

      I don't really see the huge deal here.

      I have a theory about why it's a big deal. The story is coming from Fox News, the same organisation that is owned by Rupert Murdoch who just made a big walloping donation to the GOP, has kicked up a stink about a so-called "ground zero mosque" that they actually supported nearly a year ago when the story first broke, and are now approaching mid-term elections with the smell of Democrat blood in their nostrils. Anything that helps to build up a picture of "Americans losing their freedoms" is just part of a broader campaign to portray everything that's happening in the world as bad ever since that black dude got elected. So "School implements technology to comply with laws combating the obesity epidemic" becomes "Big brother in Iowa" with the requisite question mark on the end to fool the impressionable reader into thinking that this piece of commentary is actually an NPOV news story.

      Meta-moderators, please pay attention on this one. This is neither a troll nor flamebait, it's a valid comment. As the OP says, there is no -1 disagree option.

      • Exactly, and even I, who, if you look through my commenting history am very libertarian, very anti-authoritarian and oppose state control of anything am having a hard time finding anything really to disagree with here.

        I always find it hilarious the double standards on both the left and the right.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by o'reor (581921)
        Man, mod this guy up. Fox has been at work in the last 15 years on getting out angry mobs against anything that did not strictly follow the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld dogma. The "teabaggers" are mostly FOX's creatures (with the help of neocon think tanks and their money). BTW, did we hear FOX yelling at the PATRIOT Act, which really instated a Big Brother police state ? No we didn't. Duh !
  • Whatever happened to the days when there were no choices for lunch at school. You ate the slop they served or you went hungry. Worked just fine when I was a kid (~30 yrs ago). The food wasn't even that bad and we got all milk refills we wanted (was served from cafeteria-style dispensers not tiny cartons).

    There were no kosher menus, no vegetarian menus, no alternates if kids didn't like something, no alacarte line, and no salad bars. Kids with food allergies had to bag it when they couldn't eat that day's lu

    • Whatever happened to the days when there were no choices for lunch at school. You ate the slop they served or you went hungry. Worked just fine when I was a kid (~30 yrs ago). The food wasn't even that bad and we got all milk refills we wanted (was served from cafeteria-style dispensers not tiny cartons).

      There were no kosher menus, no vegetarian menus, no alternates if kids didn't like something, no alacarte line, and no salad bars. Kids with food allergies had to bag it when they couldn't eat that day's lunch (menus were posted monthly so parents could keep track). The only food served other than that day's menu was PB&J (with milk and some sort of fruit), which was always available, even for kids who couldn't pay and weren't on free lunch program.

      A simple menu would be cheaper to serve, both in terms of food costs and labor (kitchen and serving), and easier to track who ate what: (a) school lunch, (b) bag lunch, or (c) PB&J.

      It was the same in my day too. I particularly liked Thursdays, they always had the best food and the nicest desserts on a Thursday.

  • Nutrition tracking in the middle of an obesity epidemic isn't a privacy issue, it's a small step in the right direction.

    That doesn't really sound like the best way to implement it though. On the other hand, it should at least sort of work, which is better than nothing.

  • by santajon (22325) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:34PM (#33516026) Homepage

    Seriously! My elementary had a PIN code to pay for lunch over 20 years ago. It was a very helpful system that allowed parents to deposit money into the lunch account. Kids didn't have to worry if they had money or not in the account either. The account would go negative and a letter would be generated to be sent home reminding the parent to deposit money into the account.

    The only difference between then and now is that school districts are watched under a microscope about what food is being fed to the kids. So now the lunch lady records what food you eat so the school can use that data to improve the food and prove they are meeting state/federal guidelines. Where is the harm in that?

    I'd certainly like any school to stop my kid from draining his lunch account by buying nothing but Twinkies!

  • Kids have had to keep track of such things for a very long. When I was a kid it was a punchcard. Now most kids have IDs or other things, which they must use unless they pay full price for lunch, in which case they probably bring a lunch or buy something on campus.

    Keeping track of food consumption, and maybe supplying that information to parents, sounds like a good idea. It is not like a school, especially in the lower grades, don't already know what kids eat.

    This is clearly an attempt by the fast foo

  • I don't know whether school lunch programs actually increase student performance or not. It is unconscionable that children go hungry while others eat in front of them, so I consider the programs necessary.

    The three of my four kids who are in school take a lunch box. One of them is overweight, and we found out he was spending his allowance on a la carte junk food in the cafeteria line, particularly ice cream bars.

    Frankly, there isn't any reason for the junk food to be there in the first place. I was astonis

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Darkness404 (1287218)
      Perhaps -you- should be a parent and rationally explain to your kids why you don't want them eating junk food. Chances are, you've been reinforcing behavior you don't want such as giving kids candy or other sweets when they've done something good.

      And its his money, he should be able to spend it how he wishes. You've got to let kids grow up at some point and make their own decisions about their lives. When people place too much control over their kids, the kids go wild at some point in their lives, perha
  • The source (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:39PM (#33516054) Journal

    Check out the source of the story, folks. It says at the top of the page that it's coming from an organisation called "Fox News, Fair and Balanced".

    Just thought you should know.

  • At my old high school the card system did not work that well at times.

    This was years ago but what I saw was Power over Ethernet cash registers / POS with 2? Line mini LCD's that did not work that well. Some student said they were getting over billed on their cash / free lunch card. The systems when down many times and lunch stuff had to write the card numbers down and the cost of the food. Some times when paying with cash they would ring it up look at the price (to high) says that's not right and have to st

  • Most schools already issue student ID cards with bar codes on them, why not just scan that? If the school doesn't already have a student ID system then it sounds like the perfect time to start. For the younger aged students who would be less likely to remember their ID every day perhaps the cards can be stored in the classroom; the teacher can issue them prior to lunch and collect them after.
  • unhealthy foods are cheaper then healthy stuff and schools don't have the funds to have good healthy food. Also some of fatty foods / vending make cash for the schools.

  • I was born in 1990 and every single meal I purchased while I was in public school was through a computer system that kept track of when we ate, and later, what we ate. The excuse was that our state school system subsidizes only one meal per day per student (or two if they eat breakfast, at a different rate), so if you bought two meals, you had to pay about double the normal price for the second one. It's a sad realization that the school district is actually raking in $6 or more per every single tiny and
  • Training kids to eat poorly and to select the wrong foods is a form of child abuse. I do realize that our society has wrecked the idea of mom being at home to instruct children properly and many people simply do not take care of their kids. A school using technology to catch these problems sounds like a great idea to me.
    Those sniffers that can spot drug use of parents in the home from the child's clothing are al

  • And it only happened 15 years ago!

  • They need to be using biodegradable RFID tags instead. If we can make edible underwear, why FFS can't we make edible RFID tags? Think of the (unhealthy) children!

  • by Gybrwe666 (1007849) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @10:01PM (#33516214)

    You know, I scanned the first 75 replies or so and I cannot recall a single one being from someone who actually claimed to have a kid in a school. So here's my take on the situation, as someone who has had 5 kids in school.

    1) This isn't news. This has been going on for a long time now, as school districts strive to stop handling money. As a parent, I would *FAR* rather write a check every few months (or, better yet, this year they take Paypal!) to pay for my kids lunches, than try to find the exact damn change every day for my six year old.

    2) I have a child who has struggled with weight issues from birth. Seeing as how she has two rail thin sisters (and they eat the same things), we have been working with her for about a year to emphasize better food choices and controlled portions. However, the simple fact is that schools do have choices in the cafeterias, especially starting in middle school. As such, I consider it a good tool for me to keep track of all my kids *SPENDING* and eating habits. I can tell if my high school freshman is guzzling down four packages of twinkies a day, or eating a real meal.

    3) What, exactly, does anyone believe the schools will do with this information? They are already legally restricted in terms of dietary requirements (by state and federal regulation) and they are already legally restricted from divulging personal information of students. So, does anyone her seriously believe that they will start selling Hostess the names and eating habits of every child? Or that they will start writing contracts with companies simply to, what? Increase profit margins? Violate laws by bringing in unhealthy foods? Sorry, it won't happen.

    I think that the bottom line here is that this really isn't a privacy violation. It's a tool to allow parents to control diet and spending of kids who might not be able to make the best decisions about such issues.

    Bill

    • by ConceptJunkie (24823) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @10:43PM (#33516488) Homepage Journal

      You're right. My reaction to this was, "This is news?"

      They've had this at our local elementary school as long as I've had kids there, which has been 10 years. The kids each have an ID number they enter when they purchase lunch and we write checks for lunch money. They get to keep the same ID number all through their school "career" (my oldest is in 11th grade) and it saves them the trouble of having to deal with money for lunches and saves us the trouble of dealing with it too.

  • by Greyfox (87712)
    If you tag them with subcutaneous microchips, they can't trade pins! Also, you could put their social security number on it and they'd be able to access accounts with a simple swipe for the rest of their lives! And if they're ever horribly dismembered, they'd just need to find the body part with the chip in it to figure out who they were! It's a win-win!
  • Thumb scan (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Insightfill (554828) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @10:37PM (#33516442) Homepage
    My kids' last school had kids pay for lunch with a thumb scan. Parents would consent, school would scan the thumbs, and kids could buy lunch with just a thumb on the scanner.

    In some ways, this was genius. While you couldn't control (or tell) exactly what they purchased, you at least had control over how much they spent. Also: there was no risk of lost or stolen lunch money.

    On the other hand, it was a privacy nuts worst nightmare - scanning kids. There were assurances that the ID gathered from the thumb was reduced to datapoints which could NOT be used to produce a new image, so no larger database concerns, but still creepy.

    In the end, we just had our kids bring their lunches. The school lunches were high-fat crap, usually something fried or made entirely of cheese. Best estimates from our kids was that over half the kids brought lunch, and this was a reasonably affluent town. Crud, if they would just throw in an apple or something once in a while, they'd get more takers.

  • So the plan is to allow a 5 year old to pick whatever he wants, a la carte, for his lunch, then you are going to see if it matches state guidelines? Here's a hint. It won't. Ever. Then what, you send him back to start over? Best of all is that somehow they expect this to make things go faster. I don't think so.
    My children each have a seven digit code, given to them in kindergarten. Its sole purpose is to track money on their account so they don't have to carry cash and the school doesn't have to mak
  • My children have had this set up in their school since my daughter started 4 years ago, but we don't use it. We pack our kids' lunches. Not really that expensive to do if you want to ensure your kids are eating healthy.

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