2017-11-30 / News

Schools eye lunch policy change

Rules for kids with no food draw concern

The school committee tweaked its policy about cafeteria meals after members expressed concern that it allowed certain students to go hungry if they didn’t bring lunch from home.

Committeewoman Agnes Filkins questioned the policy because it didn’t consider students who accidentally forgot their lunches at home or on the school bus. According to the first draft, children whose parents owed $50 or more were asked to bring lunch from home.

“You’re saying that a kid’s not going to have anything to eat if the parents owe more than $50,” she said. “That’s wrong. I can’t go along with that.”

The members discussed the first reading of the new policy at their Nov. 16 meeting. The federally mandated measure, which was drafted to comply with the 1946 National School Lunch Act, is supposed to ensure districts will make sure no child goes hungry during the school day. According to one of the stipulations, however, the board’s draft said that if an account is $50 in arrears, with no payment arrangement, the student will not be eligible to charge cafeteria food.

“The family will be responsible for providing food from home,” it reads.

Superintendent Ken Duva, however, said federal law prevents schools from not feeding students who forget their lunches, regardless of individual district policies. That language was included as a collection method.

“The policy reads like that, but that’s not what we do,” he said. “By law, we can’t let a child go hungry. But we need families to understand that they need to pay.”

“We can’t be bankrolling people who are just lazy,” Committeewoman Sally Schott added.

While the policy wouldn’t preclude the schools from feeding children with no lunches, Filkins reiterated she was uncomfortable with the language. “I’m a firm believer that if something is in writing, it has to be followed,” she said.

B.J. Whitehouse, the board’s chairman, agreed. “We’re not allowed to make a statement like this in our policy,” he said. Whitehouse sent the draft back to the policy subcommittee for edits.

According to the updated draft, which will be up for a vote during a second reading at the Dec. 7 meeting, the stipulation now says the district “actively supports the federal school guideline that no child goes hungry during the school day. However, when a family’s nonpayment of meal fees persists past $50, the district’s responsibility to maintain a balanced budget means that families will be asked to provide food from home.”

Under the policy, students who owe money will not be eligible to charge a la carte items in the cafeteria, even if it’s “five cents,” Duva said. Parents who owe money under the $50 threshold will receive a phone call or e-mail from the school as a reminder. These students still can purchase full meals, just not individual items off the a la carte menu.

There currently are four students whose parents are past the $50 threshold. At the end of the school year, the food service provider, Aramark, holds the district responsible for the debt. The district, however, will be allowed to use a collection agency against those parents if the new policy is approved, officials said.

— Tim RielDunkel

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