With stories about school children being denied lunches or being served alternate meals due to delinquent meal accounts once again making the rounds, The Emporia Gazette has received a number of questions from the community regarding policies for area school districts.
USD 253 Community Relations Director Lyndel Landgren said while Emporia Public Schools do not typically have issues with outstanding meal account balances, students are never forced to go without a meal due to lack of funds in the account.
“We do not provide an alternate meal for kids who are in a negative balance,” Landgren said. “They continue to eat the same meal that every other student will have. We don’t ever want to identify a student and not be able to feed a student because of that situation. It’s not the student’s fault that the lunch balance is unpaid, so we won’t ever single out a student in that way.”
USD 251 Superintendent Mike Mathes said North Lyon County Public Schools also does not single out students who have negative balances.
“We don’t deny meals to any student,” Mathes said in an email.
Landgren said USD 253 does a good job monitoring student meal accounts.
“We really do well at being able to regulate those accounts and what that looks like,” Landgren said. “Anytime somebody goes into a negative balance, our system sends out an email and then they will get a call. That’s anytime there’s a negative balance.”
Landgren said letters are sent out once a negative balance accrues beyond a certain threshold. If a negative balance reaches $50, the district’s Director of Food Service, Denise Kater, will give the family a call to see what is going on.
“She will get them some information on how they can get some help,” he said. “I feel like we do a good job as a whole working with the families.”
According to the Southern Lyon County School District’s student handbook, parents are asked to prepay for their child’s meals. When a balance of $0 is reached, a note is sent home with the student. If a negative balance reaches $25, the district then has different procedures based on the student’s age.
For children in preschool - grade 6, an alternative meal such as a cheese sandwich and drink beginning on the day that the balance occurred. The alternative meals have a cost assessed to the accounts for both breakfast and lunch.
Students in grades 7 - 12 will not receive breakfast or lunch services, including alternative meals.
In Chase County, the USD 284 Chase County Public Schools Board of Education approved a measure in July 2016 that stopped allowing students from accruing negative balances. After an account reaches a $0 balance, no breakfast or lunch will be provided to the student.
Board Clerk Cindy Kelsheimer said an alternate meal is served to the students for three days until money is put into the meal account. After that, meals are not served.
“We approved this in July of 2016 and I’ll tell you what, after that, everyone has done a pretty good job of keeping current with their lunch bills,” she said.
Kelsheimer said the community does try to step up to assist the families that cannot afford to keep money in their students’ meal accounts all of the time.
“We do have some local donations that help pay for that, too,” she said.
If there has been a change in family size or income, families in all local districts can reapply for the Free and Reduced Lunch program by contacting their local schools any time throughout the school year.