(Copyright 1997. All rights reserved.)

The Tattoo

--- Making a Permanent Impression Since 1994 ---

March 10, 1997

Lunch cards - why?

Students lose, collect 'snap cards'

Tattoo Staff Writer

   Buying a school lunch in Bristol just isn't
the same as it used to be.
   Students at the city's high schools now use
specialized plastic "snap cards" at cafeteria
cash registers. The bar-coded card showing the
holder's student ID number, according to policy, 
must be used in order to complete a purchase.
   Students may set up a computerized account
and use the card as a voucher, but even if a
student pays in cash, the card is required. If a
student does not have a card, his ID number is
manually entered into the cash register.
   This is the first year Bristol Eastern High
School has utilized this system, and the second
for Bristol Central High and Chippens Hill
Middle School.
   "I want people to realize it was meant as a
benefit for the [school] system and [the
program's] participants," said Assistant
Superintendent of Schools William Smyth, who
championed the concept before the school board.
   Others, however, are yet to be convinced.
   "I really don't know what its purpose is
outside of inventory," said Eastern Principal V.
Everett Lyons.
   Students are not only confused about the
policy, but point out flaws as well. 
   "It's an extra thing to hold in your hand and
hold up the line," said Eastern junior Dave
Giblin. "There can be fraud. You just have to
know someone's [ID] number."
   Rip-offs are a common fear at Eastern.
   "Anyone can tell the lunch lady anyone's
number and take all of their money," said junior
Brian Cummiskey.
   Greg Boulanger, director of food services at
city schools, admitted that there are a few
flaws to be worked out "as we grow into the
technology phase."
   "The system works as good as students
cooperate," said Boulanger.
   Eastern junior Kym Read attended Central
until this fall. She was quick to say that
Eastern's cafeteria is "more lenient."
   If a Central student does not have a card,
Read said, "even if you remember your ID, they
still give you a hard time."
   Read explained that the first time she bought
lunch at Eastern, she was surprised at the
cashier's mild reaction to the fact that she
didn't have her card. Ever since, Read said,
"she never cards me."
   Lending cards is discouraged as well at
Central. "If someone gives you their card and
you get caught," explained Central junior Chris
Blum, "they take your card, you can't buy the
lunch, and you won't be able to use your card
for a few days."
  Boulanger, whose office is at Central, said
voluntary lending is acceptable in theory, but
mentioned that his staff was trying to track
down a card thief at the time.
   At Chippens Hill, Boulanger said, students
without cards are sent to the end of the lunch
   Boulanger and Smyth readily point out the
positive aspects of the program. 
   With a card, Boulanger said, a purchase takes
only four seconds at the cash register, as
opposed to eight to 16 seconds when the
student's ID is entered manually.
   "I think the system increases
accountability," said Boulanger, telling how the
city's school lunch program was recently audited
by the state, receiving a "very favorable"
review. He also mentioned inventory control and
a state reimbursement that the school system
receives for each free or reduced lunch sold. 
   Smyth explained that the card policy helps
with this because it creates a required state of
anonymity for low-income students receiving free
and reduced lunches.
   Smyth said he decided to endorse the policy
based on professional reading, accounts from
colleagues, and on-site visits to schools using
the system. The policy, he said, has met with
success in other school systems.
   Central's governance council has proposed
that the snap card be used to check out books at
the school library and as collateral with
lavatory monitors to crack down on in-school
smoking among students. 
   Students, for the time being, are trying to
live with the policy as best they can.
   "I just use the vending machine," shrugged
Eastern sophomore Steve Zurell. "It doesn't take
the card."