All students enrolled in Pre-K through 12 in Green Local Schools will receive a standard lunch each day regardless of their account balance.
Superintendent Jeff Miller released a statement regarding the change, which took effect Sept. 9, for both breakfast and lunches.
“We are sensitive to the financial hardship families incur and challenges presented due to the cost of school breakfast and lunches,” Miller said in the statement. “Our staff, in coordination with Family Support Specialists, will continue to work with families to ensure they have access to all available resources to assist with purchasing school meals.”
The procedure change arose following a student at Green Primary School having his main entrée switched out for a cheese sandwich because of a negative account balance. The story has gone viral appearing on CNN and in the Washington Post.
Cafeteria workers at Green Primary School followed the district’s procedure, which has been in place for several decades. The old procedure read that once a student reached a negative $15 balance, an alternative main entrée is given to the student. Under the old procedure, students still received a vegetable, fruit and milk.
Miller said he wasn’t around when the old procedure was put in place but believes the reason behind it was so students wouldn’t accumulate a large negative balance. The procedure used to give students a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but since the increase of peanut allergies, it changed to a cheese sandwich.
Miller said he first heard about the incident on a Friday and by the following Monday, the procedure was changed. He said this isn’t a student problem, but an adult problem and he wants to work more closely with parents to help make them aware of their student’s balance and to offer help if it is needed.
“We need to address this with the parents, not the kids,” Miller said.
Miller said the district is reviewing how to better communicate with parents about account balances and how to notify them when an account goes into the negative. He said the district also has Family Support Specialists, which will be working with families who need financial assistant with lunches and any other needs.
“We obviously want to be fiscally responsible,” Miller said.
As the district works to determine the best way to inform parents, they are also focusing on how to make sure parents pay their balance and not accumulate a bunch of debt.
During the past few years, the district has had between 16 percent and 22 percent of students on free and reduced lunches. Forms to have a student on a free or reduced lunch are mailed home to all students in early to mid-August and are given to new students when they enroll. The form is also on the district’s website and can be filled out at any time if a family reaches a financial hardship in the middle of a school year.
A fund has been set up for anyone wishing to donate money to help pay for lunches or to help students in need. Checks can be made out to Green Local Schools Care of District Treasurer and by writing FSS Account in the memo. Checks can be mailed to PO Box 218 Green, OH 44232.
There is about $1,000 in the account.
Green Schools Director of Student Services Alana Niemiec said the local community has responded by reaching out wanting to help.
Not just an issue in Green
Serving alternative lunches to students with a negative balance is not just an issue special to Green. Many schools across the United States face the same issue.
Several states including New Mexico, California, Oregon and Iowa have passed laws against lunch shaming.
There is also a bill currently in the Senate of the United States called the “Anti-Lunch Shaming Act of 2019”.
Green isn’t alone as their former policy for negative account balances is very similar to neighboring districts. Some Ohio districts even have tougher policies in place such as Fairview Park City Schools in Cuyahoga County.
Once a Fairview Park City Schools student reaches a negative $10 balance, they are served a cheese sandwich, vegetable and milk. Elementary students must have their balance paid in five days or they will not be able to purchase/receive lunch from the cafeteria until their balance is paid. Middle school and high school students are given three days to pay the balance or they will not be permitted to purchase/receive a lunch.
In North Canton City Schools, when a student goes into a negative balance, the district will send an email or make a phone call to the parent or guardian. Once a student reaches the maximum negative balance of $15, the student will receive an alternative meal of a chef salad or a yogurt lunch at the elementary schools.
In Akron Public Schools, all students receive a free breakfast and lunch based on poverty rates in the city. Akron serves 35,000 meals per day.
Jackson Local Schools will continue to provide a standard lunch for students until their account reaches a negative $16.25 for paid lunches or negative $2.40 for reduced lunches. Once students go below the negative balance limit, they are served a bologna sandwich, fruit, vegetable and milk.
Coventry Local Schools Superintendent Lisa Blough said students in K-8 are allowed to charge two full meals and then after that, they receive an alternate lunch, which is every side dish they choose and they get a turkey and cheese roll-up entrée.
“These alternate lunches are rung up into our system and monitored by the head cooks,” Blough said. “If it is happening with any regularity, they contact the supervisor, the office and send a charge notice home.”
At Coventry High School, students are allowed to charge two meals also and then after that parents are contacted for money for lunch.
“This is our official approach, but more times than not – our staff covers lunch cost for any student who is in need of it,” Blough said. “If it continues, often times the principal will contact the parents to make sure they are aware that they are out funds in their accounts.”
Manchester Local Schools Superintendent Dr. James Robinson said the district’s old policy dates back to 2005. It was a no-borrowing policy and cheese sandwiches would be served.
“That is no longer going to be tolerated,” Robinson said.
The district rolled out a new policy, which allows students to continue to receive a full lunch and a better notification system for parents.
If a student doesn’t have money the first time, they will still be served lunch and high school students will be told and elementary school parents will be sent a written notice.
If a student doesn’t have money a second time, they will still be served lunch and parents will be contacted.
If a student doesn’t have money a third time, they will still be served lunch, parents will be contacted and an administrator and guidance counselor will be informed.
Robinson said recently they added sandwiches to the menu each day in addition to the main entrée, which students can pick from. If a student doesn’t have money a fourth time, they will be offered a sandwich along with milk, fruit and a vegetable.
He said the biggest aspect is getting parents involved and making them aware of the balance.
“If anything positive came out of this whole thing is it made districts look at their policy,” Robinson said. “If you don’t know there is a problem then you don’t tend to think about and look at the policy.”
This story was also published in The Suburbanite. www.thesuburbanite.com