The Finance Committee of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education will discuss tonight the plight of students who show up at the cafeteria for lunch, only to find that their meal payment account is depleted.

Nutrition Services Coordinator Kate Mason-Schultz, in the draft of a letter to parents, noted that the district “is not required by state or federal law to provide a meal at no charge to students.”

Actually, private donations have wiped clean the deficit accounts of students from low-income families who are eligible for reduced-lunch subsidies from the federal government but still owe the district for lunches provided to them at no cost.

But the administration is proposing a less heartless outcome for other hungry students.

Under the proposed procedure, if a student does not have enough money for a meal, he or she will be allowed two meal credits that will be charged to their meal payment account.

After those credits have been exhausted, students will be offered a complimentary sandwich, fruit, vegetable, and milk in place of the regular menu.

If the account balance continues to go unpaid and the student continues to appear with no money nor a packed lunch, then school personnel will attempt to contact the child’s parent or guardian.

Some school districts have come under criticism for forcing a student to return to class on an empty stomach just because their parents have neglected to put money in their lunch accounts.

The district doesn’t want this to happen, but they don’t want to have to eat the cost (no pun intended) at taxpayers’ expense either.  Hence, the board’s dilemma.

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. Proposed Procedure

    If it gets to point of school personel contacting parent or guardian. Whats plan if they say the child is given lunch money everyday?

    1. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water

      yes, there will be folks who will take advantage of this system.  But on the whole, I would think there are low income kids who truly cannot afford lunch.  I also would think the cost of providing free lunches would be a negligible expense (seeing as private donations cleaned the slate).  So, on balance, I support providing kids with meals that are no different from what other kids with current accounts receive, as that is a cost we should and can swallow (pun intended).  For those kids who “game” the system, work with their parents to fix the situation — but don’t penalize all of the kids.

      This is plainly an issue of doing the right thing.

      1. Feed them the same as Police feed overnight prisoners

        Give them a mustard sandwich on day old bread with a cup of water.

        1. Comparing a child to a prisoner is wrong
          Comparing a child to a prisoner is wrong. One is responsible for their circumstances the other is not. One is present and attempting productivity the other is not.

      2. Free or reduced lunch does exist for low income households

        “But on the whole, I would think there are low income kids who truly cannot afford lunch.”

        That is true, but those kids should be on free or reduced lunch at that point and hence be able to afford it. I don’t think there are a large number of children “gaming the system” (i.e. parents giving them money and them pocketing it) for financial gain, but there are probably some children that are simply unprepared/unaware/don’t think about it. I would think the school should contact the parent/guardian earlier in the process personally….If they’re out of money on their accounts once, then contact the parent. I don’t see the harm in that. I would think the vast majority of parents want to be informed and help.

        But, yes, giving a “mustard sandwich” or no lunch to label the children as non-payers certainly isn’t a good solution either and being at least a bit forgiving is absolutely warranted — it’s not that large of an expense. But the free and reduced lunch program is in place for this exact reason — those with low income do not have to pay the full costs of lunch and sometimes have to pay nothing. So, it shouldn’t theoretically be much of an issue, but I think some people just don’t fill out the proper forms and are simply not 100% informed on their children’s lunch funds so don’t offer to help. I’d guess that the majority of these cases are more about lack of organization on the part of the parent or child (which, of course, happens) to apply for free/reduced lunch or simply lack of awareness on the lunch balance. In other words, it’s possible it’s more about lack of knowledge of the process/organization than an affordability issue.

    2. No cash allowed

      My grade school aged child has opted to stop eating hot lunch (not enough lunchtime, which is discussion for another day) but when I was paying, it was straight into an online account. They do not accept cash at the end of the lunchline. 

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