The Lincoln High School food service policy is okay. Not great. Not bad. It’s just okay.
The brief summary of the food service policy is that students in grades 7-12 with a delinquent account of $6.75, which is about three meals, can’t eat lunch. This, as I understand, doesn’t apply to free or reduced lunches. Those students’ meals are funded by the Federal government, so the district gets reimbursed.
On one side, people feel that all students should get a meal and hungry students is a tragedy. On the other end, people say it’s a matter of responsibility for parents and students.
I’m sympathetic toward both sides of the argument. I feel everybody should be allowed to eat but at the same time, if you’re told everyday that you owe money and you don’t pay it, it’s a reasonable consequence to eventually stop receiving the service.
Presumably but not necessarily, the few students that don’t eat because of this policy are from families that can afford school lunch. If there are children that don’t eat because their families can’t afford to, that’s a problem that should be solved.
This opinion is just regarding students from families that can afford to pay but, for whatever reason, allow their accounts to reach $6.75. Either the parents forget to pay or the students are burning through money on a la carte items.
The policy is in place for a practical reason based on previous experience. If there is no cap, there are students who continually receive lunches all the while wracking up an overdrawn account that can exceed $200 over their high school career.
From the stand point of parents, who will have to pay this lump sum eventually, and from the district, which has to pay for these meals, it’s a financially damaging policy.
As soon as a student has an overdrawn account, the family receives a notification from the district. Students know ahead of time that once the $6.75 is reached, they won’t be eating. The district can’t compel every single student to be responsible with their lunch funds, and they can’t compel every single parent to pay the account. According to the administration, the district can only annoy them with letters and phone calls.
On top of this, about 20 to 30 students at Lincoln don’t eat on any given day, according to the administration. Some, or many, of these students simply choose not to eat, either because they don’t mind going eight hours without eating or they don’t consider the school lunch worth eating (which isn’t hard to do).
Yes, this is an unhealthy eating habit, and it’s harder to learn if you’re hungry, but the district can’t force students to eat. They can put 100 posters in the cafeteria about how eating lunch improves your PSSA scores, but they can’t make somebody eat lunch that doesn’t want to.
The best alternative I heard was to increase the overdrawn limit to say, $11.25, or about five day’s worth of lunches. This way, students can’t wrack up a huge account and parents have a couple more days to make the payment. This wouldn’t make the policy great, just more okay.
Other solutions would be to lower the qualifications to receive Federally-funded lunches and to provide a Federally-reimbursable alternative lunch of a sunflower butter and jelly sandwich (the latter alone may be enough to compel somebody to pay their account). However, both of these are on the Federal government end of things.
In theory, the district has a policy of “everyone who needs to eat can and everyone who wants to eat and pays can.” Ideally, we’d have a policy of “everybody who needs or wants to eat can.”