Mom's act of kindness of paying off school lunch debt turns into larger project
Local teacher pays off student lunch debt
As the pandemic left people without jobs, many parents found themselves with an added layer of worry: having to pay off their student’s lunch debt. Gabe Segal, a teacher at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School in Falls Church, decided to help out. Segal grew up in Northern Virginia, the son of two Fairfax County teachers. His mother taught for 30 years, and his father for 24, although Segal says he would’ve worked for 30 as well. Segal explains that being a Title 1 school, Sleepy Hollow Elementary has a lot of low-income families that are on a free or reduced lunch program. He had a couple vacations that were planned for this summer that got cancelled, and he decided to use that money to help the community. In March, he donated $250 to the school PTA and paid off the students’ lunch debt, which was over $600. Segal was glad to donate to the PTA to help them this upcoming year. “I wanted to help jumpstart that as well.” As to paying off the student lunch debt, Segal explains that many parents have other worries and responsibilities on their plate to worry about paying this additional cost. After he made these donations, Segal started receiving emails from parents, all incredibly grateful for his help. “What I would say is, look around you and help those families who need it. I think we’re fortunate enough to have jobs during these challenging times, and it’s challenging for the teachers as well,” he explains. “We’ve all been doing double the work, but it’s important to look around and help if you can because there’s a lot of families that are really struggling.”
Midcoast schools see climbing school lunch debt
With local school lunch debts as high as $15,000, taxpayers could have to make up the difference. Now, local school districts say added restrictions are pushing school lunch debt higher. Earlier this year, a Lisbon Falls business owner decided to help reduce Lisbon School Department’s school lunch debt. Maggie Oliver of Eastcraeft, a women’s clothing store on Main Street, held a fundraiser and raised $6,600 to donate toward the school district’s student lunch debt, which was hovering at about $15,000. The schools used to be able to ask high school students to go home and let their parents know they need more money on their lunch account, but now can’t communicate with students at all about lunch debt, “Unless they ask us,” Leavitt said. The school district ends up with this debt for a number of reasons. The threshold to qualify for free and reduced lunch also went up for this school year. Maine School Administrative District 75 has an $11,883 lunch debt and Brunswick School Department has a $12,871 lunch debt. Regional School Unit 1 is facing a school lunch debt of a little more than $15,000. Morse High School in Bath has an outstanding lunch debt of $6,321 spread over 113 students, according to Harkins. The school district’s policy already allowed students a free meal as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its free and reduced lunch program. Leavitt said while Lisbon’s food service program isn’t in the red yet and while there are good meal options, less debt would allow the schools to offer more options such as more fresh produce.
School districts chew on student lunch debt
This year, many northern Michigan schools forecast student lunch debt, and without regulation from government to collect those dues, districts have to figure it out on their own. School lunch debt has increased in recent years to the point where the median amount each district carries is just over $3,000, according to the School Nutrition Association – a professional organization that monitors lunches at schools. Scott Little is the executive director of the association, and he says lunch debt in the thousands can hurt smaller school districts in northern Michigan. In the last two years, Suttons Bay High School accumulated about $3,000 of debt from families who didn’t pay for lunches. Suttons Bay Public Schools Superintendent Tim Smith says paying for school lunches is a challenge for some families in his district. “So you’re talking about $150 a week to feed your kids lunch and breakfast,” Smith says. Over the past two years, more school districts in the region have quietly worked with donors to pay students’ debt accounts. Traverse City Area Public Schools had their $4,000 of lunch debt paid off last year by local donors. Other districts work out payment plans with parents who are overdue on lunch money. Ludington Public Schools hired a food services position, that mainly looks after the accounts with debt. Some schools that had debt problems, like Northport and Mancelona, now get free breakfasts and lunches for the entire school, thanks to special state funding. In all the districts, the schools agree that no child will go without a meal.
POLICY: 6130 Page 1 UNPAID MEAL DEBT The National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs ensure that students have access to nutritious meals to support academic readiness. The intent of this policy is to establish expectations regarding communication with parents of students whose accounts have insufficient funds to pay for school meals and to outline fiduciary responsibility. The written meal debt policy will be published and communicated in a variety of ways per federal law. Parents or guardians are responsible for all student meal expenses and are expected to pay all meal debts in full. Students from families not qualified for free or reduced price meals are expected to provide payment for student meals at the time of service. Students from households whose income is at or below federally designated financial levels may apply for free or reduced price meals. Students whose accounts have insufficient funds will receive the advertised school menu meal of their choice. Meal options will not be changed, withheld or taken from a student with a zero or negative balance 5. a. Students will not be allowed to incur debt for a la carte items. b. Students are prohibited from doing work or chores to pay down school meal debt. When a student account reaches a low or negative balance, communication shall be made directly to the parent or legal guardian, and the unpaid meal debt policy will be referenced. School Nutrition Services Revenue may not be used to subsidize unpaid meal debt.