Revision: Students on free or reduced lunch plans always receive a lunch. This was known by the Ellwoodcity.org staff but overlooked when the article was written.
Following a lengthy discussion Monday, the Ellwood City Area School Board decided not to change the food service policy which had been questioned in February by members of the Kitchen Cabinet, an Ellwood City volunteer group.
As is, the cafeteria staff takes lunch from students whose meal account is $6.75 overdrawn. Excepting packaged items, the food is then thrown out for health and safety reasons. In grades K-12, students subsequently receive a meal of a sunflower butter and jelly sandwich, vegetable, fruit and milk. In grades 7-12, students receive nothing.
“No child in the Ellwood City school district should go without eating,” Kitchen Cabinet member Earla Marshall said, adding that students that are hungry are not learning as well.
Superintendent Joe Mancini declined to explain the policy in full, and the board didn’t discuss the matter until its agenda meeting in March.
At Monday’s agenda meeting, board member Renee Pitrelli said she agreed that no student should have a meal taken away. “If a child’s hungry, they’re not learning,” Pitrelli said.
Food service director Carl Kromer said that there is a regulation requiring elementary students to receive food every day but none for high school students. The base lunch costs $2.20, so a student is cut off after approximately three meals. In addition, the cafeteria can’t be configured to collect money before students get in line because of a la carte items.
As explained by Mancini and Lincoln Principal Kirk Lape, meal plan deficits can become increasingly large over a student’s career. Once a student has an outstanding balance, they are warned through letters and phone calls home. In addition, parents can check their child’s balance online. Despite these measures, students have been known to wrack up debt exceeding $250 from delinquent meals.
The district has little means of forcing a balance to be paid until graduation, when a student with a deficit cannot receive a diploma or participate in graduation ceremonies. The district is not legally allowed to withhold grades throughout a student’s career.
The board and administration discussed several reasons why student’s obtain delinquent balances. Although it is generally the parent’s responsibility to put money in a student’s meal account, some students burn through funds irresponsibly by buying a la carte items, such as ice cream.
Perry and Hartman Principal Frank Keally said that as a parent, he would much rather have to pay small balances throughout the year then one giant sum before graduation.
Vice President Matt Morella proposed a compromise of increasing the delinquency threshold to one or two weeks’ worth of lunches.
However, after Kromer and Assistant Principal Nadia Prisuta said that only about two to three lunches are thrown away per month, most of the board quickly decided to leave the policy as is. Prisuta said that about 20 to 30 students skip lunch each day and it’s not easy to know how many of these are because of delinquent funds or because the student simply chooses not to eat.
“Some students wait until after school,” Prisuta said. “We all have different eating habits.”
Following this information, Pitrelli polled the board. All were in favor of no changes except Morella and Pitrelli.
“I’m a softie when it comes to food,” Pitrelli said.