Opinion: Food Service Policy is Okay

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.”

9 Comments on "Opinion: Food Service Policy is Okay"

  1. Ralph Chiappetta | March 21, 2016 at 9:52 am | Reply

    Jonathan, I agree with your comments. I do disagree that the school will throw away the food if the student owes money. Can’t they stop them before they get to the end of the line and find out they are in the rears on their lunch account.
    Its not a good policy to just take their food and toss it out as garbage. This policy needs updated.

    • Thank goodness we're out! | March 21, 2016 at 1:25 pm | Reply

      I agree with Ralph, there has got to be a better way. If the school can afford to throw the tray away, why can’t they let the child have it? If its true that there are only a few a month, there is nothing you can say to convince me that they don’t know who the kid is before they get to the register. Where is the NO BULLY policy when it comes to the school? Kids are fragile, how dare the school embarrass them in this manner! All they’re trying to do is eat. I’ve been in this spot, We’re middle class, make to much for assistance, not enough to always easily afford all that we need to pay. Its embarrassing enough without having a lunch lady snatch your lunch from your hands and throwing it in the garbage.
      To the man who thinks its the child’s personal responsibility, where does the child get the money if the parents don’t even have it?
      Maybe the school could discreetly designate a small job for these kids and let them work off the $2.20. Or maybe have a “free” basket (things close to expiration) and let them pick one or two items? The school helps the food bank, maybe the food bank can help the school? There are far better choices than humiliation.

    • Carol Carder | March 21, 2016 at 1:30 pm | Reply

      I work in the cafeteria and there is no way of finding out who owes until the student puts their Identification number in. Their are many school employees who have paid for many lunches for the kids…We as employees don’t like it either, but many kids pull money out of their pocket for ala cart items and won’t pay for their lunch…Also many kids will just pay for that day and leave the $6.75 balance…they may pull out a $20 pay for one day and then go to ala cart and make $5.00 in purchases…Unless Parents take responsibility for their OWN kids this problem will not be resolved!

      • This may be the problem.. | March 22, 2016 at 4:10 pm | Reply

        Let me get this straight. A child owes money, goes through the line and at the register (in your words) “kids will just pay for that day and leave the $6.75 balance…they may pull out a $20 pay for one day and then go to ala cart and make $5.00 in purchases”. So instead of paying off the past due balance and the days charge, the LUNCH LADY takes it upon herself to only charge a single day and gives the child change? Change! Why? That $20 WAS the parent taking responsibility and the lunch lady choosing not to to clear the dept. Again, why? You cannot make a decision like that and then steal their food away the very next day. More of your words “Unless Parents take responsibility for their OWN kids this problem will not be resolved”! Sounds to me as if they did. The kid had $20.00! The lunch lady however, chose to be irresponsible. I sure hope the school board reads your post.

  2. Get off your high horses and look at our crumbling community! Previous generations of corruption have drove this once great town into a crumbling mess and now you want to mess with our children’s meals. We pay enough taxes and for what? Our community leaders get raises when they bring nothing to this town! One member received a 5k raise only after working for one year and we are complaining about the next generations school lunches!

  3. IMO While we don’t know everyone’s situations, there needs to be a better way of notifying the parents. Telling the kids they owe money, in front of their peers, is most likely embarrassing them. If the kids are spending their money on a la carte items, they need to suspend their ability to purchase them until their account is current. That is teaching them to be responsible with their money. I know it is the parent’s responsibility, but we don’t know everyone’s situation. Is there a way a citizen can pay some of these kids accounts that are at the $6.75 mark? There are people who care & want to help.

  4. The word is “arrears” not “rears” which is your butt! Jonathan, nice article. You have to realize, however, some people go through life wanting everything free and that number has greatly increased in the last few years.

  5. What happened to just bring your own lunch to school with leftovers like adults do when they go to work? Show some responsibility this is not the school job to be the parent.

  6. Francis Ramsden | March 22, 2016 at 1:38 pm | Reply

    I completely disagree with the suggestion that federal funds should cover more lunches. There is enough spending going on of taxpayer money, just look at Ellwood City taxes and the run down community. Taxes ($$$) does not = production.

    The throw away policy is equally as nonsensical. It is meant as punishment or a penalty for overdrawn accounts…..yet provides no benefit to the school. Simply a negative to the student. This is a lose-lose and the board should recognize it as such.

    Finally, personal responsibility cannot be stated enough. I’ve been seeing this number of $200 being thrown around for overdrawn accounts…do we actually have proof of multiple instances of this happening? Just curious. Nevertheless, the students should be able to pack a PB&J sandwich and bring to school. What can that possibly cost the family for multiple lunches? Not very much. And any student, pulling out $20s with an overdrawn account is a problem. Sounds like parents are giving money to pay off accounts, and the students are pocketing. I’ve been there, done that myself. My parents set me straight.

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