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.