BIG HORN — While the majority of parents pay for their students’ lunches, Sheridan County School District 1 officials recently debated a policy concerning delinquent school lunch balances at district schools.
The policy passed on the first reading at the board’s Tuesday night meeting at Big Horn High School. However, board members requested revisions before the June meeting.
The proposed policy states that a student who overspends his or her school lunch balance by $30 for secondary students and $20 for elementary students will be issued what’s referred to as an “alternative lunch” instead of a typical hot lunch.
An alternative meal consists of a cheese sandwich, the fresh fruit of the day and milk delivered as a sack lunch.
The proposed policy stated alternative meals will continue for one week. After that, the alternative meal will not be served, and the parents of the student affected will be asked to meet with the district food service director and/or business manager to address the situation.
At that time, the district will review the household’s income to determine if the family is eligible for free or reduced-cost meals.
Students subject to the proposed policy are those whose families do not qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.
The policy also reads that the district will not embarrass a student due to his or her inability to pay. The alternative meal would be placed in the student’s locker.
However, several board members said a student would be embarrassed anyway, as his or her peers may ridicule the student when issued an alternative lunch.
“Having worked in a school for 30 years, I know that the kids are going to know,” board member Penny Barken said. “… It is an embarrassment; maybe it won’t be to every child, but one is too many.”
Some principals said several students already bring a sack lunch provided by their families on a daily basis, and those who have a brown-bag lunch given by the school would not necessarily stick out among others in the lunchroom.
Several board members suggested continuing to provide a regular lunch to students and placing an emphasis on the meeting with the parents instead of providing the alternative meals.
School officials said significant overdue debts in a student’s lunch balance happen infrequently. District principals and administrators said every time they make a phone call to parents, they pay the lunch debts.
No student at SCSD1 owed money on a lunch account at the end of the 2015-16 school year.
Still, some believed a policy needs to be established throughout the district.
“Our belief is that if you don’t have an end point, whatever that is, it will incentivize people not to pay,” business manager Jeremy Smith told the board of trustees.
Superintendent Marty Kobza said if all debt limits are removed, the school would have to dedicate additional funds to the school lunch program.
The policy must be implemented by July 1.