The Finance Committee of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education is scheduled to discuss tonight  the district’s policy of dealing with students who fail to pay for their school lunches.

Many students are aided by the federal free lunch and reduced lunch programs, supplemented by donations to the district, that ensure that students from low-income families do not have to go without lunch because they can’t afford it.

The main problem is with the students who don’t qualify, but manage to stiff the district when their luncheon accounts run out.

The issue gained national attention in April when the New York Times ran an article about how some districts were guilty of shaming the students who did not pay up for their meals.

The article quoted from a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that said nearly half of the nation’s school districts used some kind of “shaming” on luncheon deadbeats by, for example, giving them a cold sandwich instead of a hot meal.

Apparently as a result of the negative publicity generated by the Times article, the Illinois State Board of Education is requiring every district to create an “unpaid meal procedure” that they must communicate to families and staff before the new school year begins in the fall.

That’s why it’s on the agenda for tonight’s Finance Committee meeting.

Kate Mason-Schultz, the district’s Nutrition Service Coordinator, said in a memo to the board that, under current procedures,  students who have insufficient money for a meal are loaned the amount that is short (maximum of two meals) and given a  “loan lunch” that is charged to the student’s meal payment account .

After two such lunches, students are then offered a soy butter and jelly sandwich and milk, in place of the regular menu, at no charge. If the student continues to return to the cafeteria with no money or packed lunch, then school personnel attempt to contact the student’s parent or guardian.

She says this procedure holds losses to a minimum.   This year it’s totaled less than $4,000 and ensures that no student returns to class hungry.

“Students are always offered a lunch,” she wrote.

Information about the school lunch payment procedures is available to anyone to read on the district’s website.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. Don’t blame the kids

    Your choice of the words deadbeat” and “stiff” to describe students who fall behind on their lunch money accounts is not warranted. The policy guides how meals are made available to the students and it is their parent or guardian who is responsible for paying what is owed. Regardless, making it appear as though the children are trying to evade paying what they owe is simply wrong.

    1. Deadbeats???

      Deadbeats???? Before making such a derogatory remark try to understand the people and stories behind those ‘deadbeat’ families. Who recently lost a job, a spouse, a marriage? Who is caring for a sick family member and facing a mountain of medical bills? Who is working multiple jobs trying their best to provide but still coming up short every month? Show some understanding and compassion.

      1. So you’ll step up & lead the donation drive?
        You’ll pay for it or lead the way in soliciting donations for free lunches? Great. Would you like D65 to contact you or will you contact them?

        No? Somebody else’s job? Why not lead by action vs sermonizing in mock outrage? Is it really horrible that families who don’t contribute their fair share are called out for it?

        1. The problem is with the

          The problem is with the headline “deadbeats”, very similar to Paul Ryan’s comments, “nobody gets a free lunch.”

        2. Yes, it’s horrible to shame kids

          I think some things need to be cleared up.  Evanston Now isn’t calling anyone “deadbeats” nor is the NY Times.  The NY Times article reported that some school districts call the parents and/or children “deadbeats”.  That is flat out wrong for those school districts to say.

          The issue of some families that “may” be taking advantage of reduced or free meals is always going to be a situation.  As noted in the article, D65 runs up about $4,000 in expenses.  That is nothing in the grand scheme of things.  While I remain skeptical that D65 is not managing its budget better, in this case I have no problems with the district feeding kids whose parents have not funded up their lunch account.  Kids need to receive a quality education, and if they are not well-equipped to learn (including having enough energy to think), then we as a community have failed them.  No child should go hungry at school nor should they be shamed by it. That is just immoral.

          Yes, it is just that families should cover their kids’ meals, for which there may be a host of reasons why that may not have happened.  But feeding the kids and not shaming them for it is the right thing to do.  I also think the district should not feed them soy butter and jelly sandwiches.  The kids should get the regular meal so that they are not differentiated or stigmatized by it.

          You’re a cold person who complains about the district losing $4,000 for feeding children.

      2. What word would you use?

        I confess to writing that headline, and I apologize if readers find it a bit harsh.

        But remember, we’re not talking about low-income families that qualify for free or reduced lunches, based upon their income. They are already provided for.

        And the district administration is more than willing to work with those families who are suffering a temporary financial setback due to the loss of a job or sickness of a family member.

        The problem is with families that consistently send their kids to school without lunch money, but yet expect the district to provide them with a hot meal regardless of their circumstances.

        The best word I could come up with to describe these parents was “deadbeats.”

        What word would you suggest?

          — Charles Bartling

        P.S. By the way, the committee was pressed for time Monday night and never got around to a discussion of this agenda item, deferring it to a later meeting.

        1. Getting Away With It

          I believe that many kids have found a way to keep their lunch money in their pocketsand claim to be too poor. Engaging the parents is a good way to get to the point about who is cheating. This sounds like a student counselor job.

        2. Karma

          hope you always have money to feed your kids. Karma my friend may teach you a lesson to take your off your high horse

        3. ‘Deadbeats’ is extremely judgmental

          “Deadbeats” is extremely judgemental and should be avoided.  “D65 unit to discuss nonpayment of school lunch fees” is neutral and correct.  One can think of many other phrasings.  Evanston Now doesn’t need a sensational grabber, and should put fairness above flash.

          A second disturbing feature of the article is that it discusses “students who fail to pay for their school lunches,” and later “students” who “stiff” the district.  The students themselves are not financially responsible for their lunch payments, and should not bear any criticism for the actions of the responsible parties.  (Reasonable people can disagree as to whether those parties should bear criticism, but let us be clear to isolate the students themselves from this question.)

          Oddly, in a later paragraph which seems sympathetic to the idea of not shaming students, the same phrase “luncheon deadbeats” is repeated.  This is outside of the context of a headline, where there are clearly no space limitations and no need for a single word to convey the meaning.


  2. Perhaps lunch should be free for everyone

    It is said that taxpayers pay almost $20,000 per student each year at D65. You’d think that with the high property taxes in Evanston and property owners paying more than their fair share in terms of lunch meals would get some respect.

    Voters just passed a $115 million tax hike solely to keep D65 afloat. And now they’re meeting to find ways to make deadbeats pay their lunch – the same deadbeats that likely pay high property taxes in Evanston? 

    With that much money per student perhaps lunch should be free for everyone. Or maybe D65 should ask for another tax hike?

  3. I see NOTHING has changed! I
    I see NOTHING has changed! I fell behind on my son’s lunch payments (I didn’t realize the funds were depleted) he was fed a “SOY SANDWICH”. Nobody checked before feeding him that sandwich……. ALLERGIC!
    Nobody reached out to me to say DID YOU FORGET TO MAKE A PAYMENT? NO! No email nothing!
    AUTISM kept my child from communicating (the info)with me. I figured it out after a trip to the ER with my child. He left D65 with a balance that still hasn’t been returned 3 years later.

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