So much happens in a day in the life of a school, needless to say an entire system. It is early in my appointment and so much has already taken place in our schools and our county. For my first blog I feel I need to address the hottest topic since my first BOE meeting - the lunch charging issue. The PROPOSED policy is policy number 6220. If you haven’t please take note of where you can find this and all policies related to Stokes County Schools by clicking this link. The proposed portion of the policy as it relates to middle schools is this:
Proposed Policy 6220
- Meal Charges
Students who are required to pay for meals are expected to provide payment in a timely manner. The board recognizes, however, that students occasionally may forget or lose their meal money. In the event that a student is unable to pay for a meal on a particular day, the student may charge a reimbursable meal. A student carrying a negative balance amount of two reimbursable meals will not be permitted to accrue additional charges. Instead, the student may be served a designated alternate meal provided at no cost to the student, (ex. cheese sandwich, peach cup and a cup for water). Appropriate modifications to the alternative meal will be made when required by the student’s documented special dietary needs. To safeguard the dignity and confidentiality of students in the serving line, reasonable efforts must be used whenever possible to avoid calling attention to a student’s inability to pay.
Unfortunately, the following facts have not been published on the Stokes County Schools website like I had requested. The following bullets in orange were written by the superintendent and shared with WXII on 12/21/18 and later with Spectrum News on 1/3/19. I rearranged these to put the last one first (one of the most important and one that could have decreased much of the backlash since the meeting). These points have been addressed on Facebook posts by the three middle schools that are affected by this policy. My comments are in red. Links to websites are in blue. (Colors may vary depending on how you are viewing this page. If you are viewing from your phone, not sure what color may show up)
- This discussion/proposed change would only affect middle school students.
The high schools in Stokes County already have a No Charging “procedure” that has been in effect since the beginning of the 2017/18 school year. This proposed policy revision is primarily pertaining to our three middle schools. It also puts procedures for elementary and high schools formerly into policy.
- We have a charging problem (over $15,000 less than halfway through the year). Schools must pay the balances at the end of the year which keeps the school from spending this money on other items for students.
This is true, but this is the total for ALL 19 of our schools, not just one. This total would be significantly higher if the policy for high schools had not been changed last school year. Before that policy change, I know of one school that had at least half this balance toward the end of the spring semester.
Some may think this is a high amount. Some may think not. However, you need to be informed that Child Nutrition is, in a way, a separate business from the rest of the schools. They have a completely different set of rules when it comes to money collection at the end of a school year. They can not close the end of the year with a balance due to federal and state law. They must be compensated for their debt. This means the school is liable to pay any debt to the Child Nutrition department at the end of each school year. Schools are not in the for-profit business. What fees and funds collected go directly to benefit particular programs. Schools should not have to budget for anticipated unpaid lunches. They should count on the parents/guardians of their students to provide for the student’s basic needs. Aren’t parents/guardians ultimately responsible for their children?
Don’t get me wrong. While your child is at school it is our number one responsibility as a school system to keep them safe and provide them with a comfortable environment in which to learn. It does “take a village” and we are willing to assist to the best of our ability during the normal operating hours of a school day and then some. We count on parents and guardians to do their part as well. We all know that families fall on hard times. If you need help relating to school meals, PLEASE ASK FOR IT! Our school administrators and guidance counselors can make arrangements to help students with a temporary need. Our Child Nutrition department is also in contact with the schools on a regular basis to inquiry about new students or student’s with status changes that may be in need of meal assistance.
If you know that your child has overdue balances and you are not able to pay all at once, let the school know. I am sure options for payment plans can be worked out. This goes for cafeteria balances and other fees.
- The Board is discussing options, nothing has been voted on or put in place.
This was presented to the BOE as a PROPOSED policy under our discussion agenda. No action has been taken yet on the portion of the policy relating to the middle schools. When commenting on subjects regarding the schools, please try to make sure you have your facts straight before voicing harsh criticism. As a new BOE member, I was provided this proposed policy literally 5 minutes before the meeting began. When a policy change is proposed, there is at least a 30 day notification period before any action can be taken. It is during this time that we ask for your constructive input. When you see posts on Facebook or other social media or articles in the paper, don’t jump to conclusions. Please read thoroughly, do your homework, educate yourselves, call, email, or visit central office or a school directly to ensure you have complete and accurate information.
- We want community input.
Yes we do. We invite your input on this and any concern you may have. I have read many social media posts regarding this particular issue. Again, I will ask that you be courteous and civil when making your comments. Remember, children do read posts on their school’s social media sites. Always keep that in mind. Please attend the next BOE meeting (January 22, 2019, 6:00pm) and any other meeting that has an agenda item of particular concern to you. It is always best to get your information first hand. If you can not attend a meeting, again, please call or email to ask about your concern.
- I, as superintendent, have only received one phone call from a parent.
While this may be the case, I, as a BOE member, have received several of both. I understand many calls have been addressed by other members of our central office staff as well.
- NO student will be denied food. We will not let a child go hungry.
Believe me, no one in our school system would ever want this. In my 13 years of experience I have never heard of this occurring. Students may choose not to eat, but they are always given the opportunity. Now I have read plenty of posts that say otherwise. If you hear of such instances, please notify your student’s principal or cafeteria manager immediately.
- This does not keep students on Free and Reduced lunches from eating their normal meals.
1. Not had a Free and Reduced application sent in for review
2. Been declined by the review of an application. Data from the applications is input into a database that the Child Nutrition department is required to use.
3. Not paid when the parents/guardians of the student failed to either send money to school with their student or prepaid via this website:
2018-19 Stokes County Schools Free and Reduced Price School Meals Household Application
If you have multiple children, you need only apply once per family. Your family should qualify if you meet the guidelines on the following chart: United States Department of Agriculture Income Eligibility Guidelines effective for this school year. Please note that an application has to be completed each school year. Reminders are sent home over the summers and at the beginning of every school year. If not completed, your student’s eligibility may be terminated after the first 4 weeks of the school year. After that date, any charges incurred between then and time of the new application approval are the parent/guardian responsibility.
At any point, during the school year, that a family has a change in status that you feel may qualify your student for Free and Reduced lunches, please notify the school and they can assist you with an application, send one home or you may complete one by visiting the above noted link.
- We are using grilled cheese and peaches as an example item which will be used frequently based on grilled cheese being one of our more popular meal choices and the cost feasibility.
- Students are not being "food shamed" or set up to be "bullied" because other students can have these choices as well. Again, grilled cheese, fruit, and water are consumed by many students. Students eating the alternate meal will not be the only students eating the meal.
We are discussing options to identify the students that will be required to choose the alternative lunch options if the proposed policy is approved. A final decision on how to do this has not yet been determined. I am not comfortable with what has been presented thus far. It is my hope that before the policy would go into effect that parents/guardians who are deemed able to pay will do so, avoiding this altogether. If not, if the policy is adopted, a uniform way to notify students prior to getting to the cafeteria cash register will also be evaluated.
- Students with food allergies will be given other choices.
If your child has particular food allergies, this information should already be on file with the school nurse who would, in turn, have notified each of your child’s teachers and the cafeteria manager. This allergy, if known, is also flagged when looking your student up on Powerschool. If you are unsure if any such food allergy, or other medical condition, is on record, please notify your school nurse as soon as possible.
This concludes the comments from the superintendent’s bullets and my feedback to them. Now I want to share a few other items from my research thus far. This is not just a Stokes County issue nor a North Carolina issue. This is a national issue. I found the following two sites and their subsequent links to be extremely informative:
Unpaid Meal Charges published by the US Department of Agriculture
Report to Congress: Review of Local Policies on Unpaid Meal Charges and Alternate Meals
From these and because of some comments on social media related to this issue, I have done additional research. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Free Public Education we offer were indeed “free”. For the most part, it is. Public education is the most cost effective way to educate our students. However, as we know, nothing comes totally free. In fact, aren’t we all paying for it? Approximately 50% of your tax dollars go to fund public education. As an elected official I will be doing my best to make sure your hard earned money is applied fairly and equitably.
Some of you have commented that nearby districts offer every student a free lunch. This is true. The program is called Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). At the present time, Stokes County Schools does not qualify for this program. To learn more about CEP, I found the following sites to be helpful.
School Meal - Community Eligibility Provision published by the US Department of Agriculture
Community Eligibility Provision published by the NC Department of Public Instruction
Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) - published by Public School of North Carolina, State Board of Education, Department of Public Instruction
I have also read comments about seeking public assistance or fundraisers to help cover this debt. Throughout my campaign, I learned so much on my visits to community service organizations. Our schools are extremely fortunate to receive assistance in the form of volunteers and monetary donations throughout our county. We couldn’t do what we do for our students if not for your support. Thank you for all you do. Wouldn’t we like to see this support go to underfunded programs and materials that our students should not have to go without?
Bottom line - If you are able to pay for your child’s lunch, PLEASE DO SO or send a packed lunch from home. If temporarily unable or forget a day or two, that is ok. Remember, whatever policy that may be approved will have a certain dollar amount a child can charge. Just be sure to pay the balance as soon as possible to avoid the alternative lunch offer.
If you are not able to pay and you think you qualify for Free/Reduced Lunch, PLEASE APPLY. We encourage you to make the effort to do so. If you need help, please notify your school.
I think my first blog was quite lengthy. I hope future ones are not so I can keep you coming back! If you read all the way to the end here and found this helpful and informative on the subject, please share it! My commitment is to educate and inform. The information in my blog will always be based on my understanding of the facts and issues.
Have a great week everyone! Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns