Stewartville School Cafeteria Staff Reportedly Dump Lunches Of Students In Debt
School lunch debt a problem for Portland students, schools – The Forecaster
PORTLAND – Even though more than half of students in the Portland Public Schools qualify for a free or reduced-cost lunch, the schools are still carrying a significant load when it comes to unpaid school meal debt. The School Department is facing a $6,000 shortfall and at the end of the past fiscal year last June, it was forced to cover $20,000 in unpaid meals, according to Food Services Director Jane McLucas. In December, Dr. Kathryn Horutz wrote a check to cover the entire unpaid meal balance for students at Ocean Avenue Elementary School. Even as school districts across Maine struggle with balancing the books when it comes to student meals, the Legislature is weighing a new bill that would require them to provide lunch even if a student doesn’t have the money in their account.
The Portland schools charge paying students $2.70 per day for a school lunch at the elementary level and $2.95 at both the middle and high school level, she said. Each meal, McLucas said, must include a protein, a grain, a fruit, a vegetable and milk, and students must choose at least three items. McLucas said food services, as well as individual school staff, tries to inform families about the chance to qualify for a free or reduced lunch, as well as the opportunity to re-apply throughout the school year, but every year the district still has to combat the issue of unpaid meals. Stevens said in the past Portland schools would cut off families if they failed to pay for five lunches in a row, and the school also used to feed kids an alternate lunch if they had racked up school meal debt. She said, that’s no longer the case and what Portland now does is what the new statewide bill would require of all school districts.
Walter Beesley, the child nutrition director for the state Education Department, told the newspaper there is currently more than $350,000 in overdrawn student lunch accounts statewide. McLucas, said Horutz, was not the only one who made a recent donation to the Portland Public Schools to cover student meal debt. While lawmakers debate whether students carrying meal debt ought to be served, school districts in Maine are making school lunches more nutritious and offering more locally grown produce, which makes meals more expensive.
When Denver stopped lunch-shaming, debt from unpaid meals skyrocketed
Denver’s exploding meal debt – amounting to roughly 900 unpaid lunches every school day of the year – illustrates the balancing act districts nationwide face amid growing public support for policies prohibiting lunch-shaming. The school lunch debt is one reason Denver district officials quietly introduced snacks such as Doritos and Rice Krispies Treats in elementary school cafeteria lines late this past winter. Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations for the School Nutrition Association, said she hasn’t yet heard of another district with a debt increase the size of Denver’s following the introduction of a lunch-shaming prevention policy. Nearly one-third of the district’s lunch debt last year came from families who were eligible for free or reduced-price meals, but signed up part-way into the school year, after their children had already received free school lunches. Last year, in addition to adding new revenue-generating snacks in elementary schools, the district tried to recoup the debt by making weekly robocalls to parents, working with principals to do outreach to families, and in some cases sending letters home with students.
Most districts nationwide accrue some debt for unpaid meals. A 2016 survey by the School Nutrition Association found that three-quarters of school districts rack up unpaid meal debt, up slightly from 71 percent two years before. In Denver, the amount of lunch debt ranges widely by school, with some accruing less than $50 and others accruing thousands. Omar D. Blair Charter School had the highest lunch debt among Denver schools last year at $11,500.
At Shoemaker, where two-thirds of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, Kitchen Manager Chris Juarez said he believes much of the school’s $4,000 in lunch debt came from families who would have qualified for subsidized lunches but didn’t apply. A 2017 Denver school board resolution specified that the district does not collect or maintain any information on students’ immigration status. A district grant of $100,000 paid off lunch debt from students who were eventually eligible for free or reduced-price lunch last school year but whose parents may not have signed up right away.
The gloomy reality lurking under the story about Philando Castile’s mom erasing lunch debts – ThinkProgress
Zero graduating seniors at Robbinsdale Cooper High School will have their diplomas withheld this spring over unpaid school lunch debts. The good news comes courtesy of Valerie Castile, whose son Philando was killed during a traffic stop by a former officer of the tiny St. Anthony, Minnesota, police department in July 2016. Castile delivered an $8,000 check to the school in late April that wipes out the money Cooper High would otherwise have held over some of the 300-plus kids finishing up their secondary schooling this spring. The check is at least the third delivered to schools in the St.
Paul area to erase student meal debts since Castile was killed by Jeronimo Yanez, who was later acquitted of homicide charges. The family has previously donated $45,000 to the broader St. Paul Public Schools system with the funds ticketed to the same purpose. The Castile family has received tens of thousands of dollars from crowdfunding donors to support a foundation launched in Philando’s name. The Philando Castile Relief Foundation has received more modest but substantial sums from private donors to carry on the slain man’s memory.
In theory, every public school student whose family is getting by on less than 130 percent of the federal poverty line is eligible to get school meals paid for entirely by federal tax dollars. In practice, many of those eligible students still end up getting charged – and, when they can’t pay, getting punished for their family’s poverty through policies that bar them from school events or otherwise make their full membership in their school community contingent on their financial status. Anyone who falls short of what schools charge for meals in the reduced- or full-price food categories has to come up with the money on their own; federal policy bars schools from using any of their reimbursement funds to wipe their slates clean. The school meal debt issue is typically characterized as a bureaucratic problem. Though schools with high proportions of low-income students are eligible to extend free lunch to everyone through the federal program, many such districts haven’t jumped through the USDA hoops required to take that opportunity.