As many of my readers know, I am currently a candidate for School Board Director for my local School District. In order to be informed about the issues coming before the Board, I have been attending the monthly School Board meetings. At the recent June meetings I learned about two positive changes happening in our District. Starting during the 2017-18 school year, every student enrolled in K-4th grade will be able to receive breakfast and lunch at no charge. In addition to providing free breakfast and lunch to elementary school students, the Board proposed a district-wide policy to guarantee all students with lunch debt will continue to receive a regular lunch regardless of that debt and all attempts to collect payment on lunch debt will be made through contact with parents or guardians, not children at lunch.
My local School District is able to provide free breakfast and lunch to all elementary students in our district through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). As I explained in my previous post CEP allows qualifying schools to provide free breakfast and lunch to all enrolled students without collecting household applications for free and reduced meals. The schools are then reimbursed for all breakfasts and lunches provided using a formula based on a percentage of enrolled students who participate in other means tested programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Participating in this program will help lessen the amount of annual school lunch debt carried by the School District, as many of the children who have school lunch debt live in households which qualify for free or reduced meals but for various reasons do not apply to participate in the program, or households which just miss the threshold to participate in the free or reduced meal program. Additionally, when a school participates in CEP, the stigma children who have difficulty paying for school meals face is removed because every student is treated the equally by being served the same meal.
Not every school in our District qualifies to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision. Only three of the elementary schools are eligible, leaving the remaining three schools in the District to provide breakfast and lunch under the same circumstances as previous years. These remaining three schools will continue to experience cases of school lunch debt as they have in the past. To address future cases of school lunch debt, the School District has proposed a district-wide policy to only discuss this debt with parents or guardians of the children who carry the debt. In other words, no action to regarding a child’s school lunch debt will be taken with the child during the during his or her lunch. Furthermore, any child with school lunch debt will continue to receive the same lunch listed on the daily menu, just like every other student getting lunch. No more dreaded cheese sandwiches!
These two actions taken by the local School District are exactly some of the steps I suggested needed to be taken to address the problem of school lunch debt, which often leads to lunch shaming. The District applied to have eligible schools in the district participate in the Community Eligibility Provision, thus taking a step to lower the District’s overall school lunch debt. The Board then proposed a district-wide policy to cease the practice of singling out and punishing students with school lunch debt by allowing them to only have a cheese sandwich for lunch. I commend the School Board’s efforts to consider the needs and feelings of the District’s students while taking steps to minimize the amount of future school lunch debt.