Charging School Meals and Prohibition Against Meal Shaming – Policy #8505
The Board of Education recognizes that on occasion, students may not have enough funds for a meal. To ensure that students do not go hungry, the Board will allow students who do not have enough funds to “charge” the cost of meals to be paid back at a later date subject to the terms in this policy.
To comply with State guidelines and maintain a system for accounting for charged meals, regarding both full and reduced-price meals, the Board shall:
- allow only regular reimbursable meals to be charged, excluding extras, à la carte items, side dishes, additional meals, and snacks (“competitive foods”); and
- use a computer-generated point of sale system, which identifies and records all meals as well as collects repayments.
Charged meals must be counted and claimed for reimbursement on the day that the student charged (received) the meal, not the day the charge is paid back. When charges are paid, these monies are not to be considered “à la carte” transactions, as a section on the daily cash report or deposit summary reads “charges paid.”
Students shall not be denied a reimbursable meal, even if they have accrued a negative balance from other cafeteria purchases, unless the parent/guardian has provided written permission to the school to withhold a meal. No student with unpaid charges will be prohibited from purchasing food if they have money that day.
If school food authorities (SFAs) suspect that a student may be abusing this policy, written notice will be provided to the parent/guardian.
Students who cannot pay for a meal or who have unpaid meal debt shall not be publicly identified or stigmatized (including wristbands or hand stamps), required to do chores or work to pay for meals, or have meals thrown away after they have been served. District staff shall not discuss a student’s unpaid meal debt in front of other students. The district shall not take any action directed at a student to collect unpaid school meal fees. However, the district may discretely notify students of their account balances, and why certain items (e.g., à la carte, etc.) could not be provided with charged meals.
Student Account Balance Notification
The district’s payment system allows for automatic replenishment when a balance reaches a certain amount set by the parent/guardian. The district shall encourage parents/guardians to utilize this option.
Parents/guardians shall be discretely notified of student account balances regularly. When a student’s account balance falls to $3.00 and whenever a meal is charged, the district will discretely notify the parent/guardian of the balance, and the process to refill the account. This notification will continue regularly until the account is replenished. Parents/guardians must repay all unpaid charges remaining at the end of the year or before their child leaves the district, whichever occurs first.
The district shall discretely notify parents/guardians of students with negative balances of at least five meals, determine if the student is directly certified to be eligible for free meals, and attempt to reach the parent/guardian to assist them in the application process for free and/or reduced price meals, and determine if there are other issues within the household causing the insufficient funds and offer appropriate assistance. If a parent/guardian regularly fails to provide meal money and does not qualify for free or reduced price meals, the district may take other actions as appropriate, including notifying the local department of social services if neglect is suspected.
The school district shall notify all parents/guardians in writing on an annual basis at the start of the school year and to families transferring during the year, outlining the requirements of this policy. The policy shall also be published in appropriate school and district publications. All staff involved in implementing and enforcing this policy shall also be notified of these requirements and their responsibilities. The district’s enrollment process shall include the application process for free and reduced price meals. If the district becomes aware that a student is so eligible, it shall file an application for the student. Staff responsible for assisting foster, homeless and migrant students shall coordinate with the food services staff to ensure such students receive free school meals.
Unpaid Meal Charges and Debt Collection
Unpaid meal charges are a financial burden to the district and taxpayers and can negatively affect the school program. Unpaid meal charges shall be considered “delinquent” as per the district’s accounting practices. The district shall attempt to recover unpaid meal charges before the end of the school year, but may continue efforts into the next school year. The district shall notify parents/guardians of unpaid meal charges at regular intervals, and may engage in collection activities by district staff, which do not involve debt collectors as defined in federal law (15 USC §1692a), and may not charge fees or interest. The district shall offer repayment plans, and may take other actions that do not result in harm or shame to the child, until unpaid charges are paid.