The District 200 School Board voted to approve a new unpaid lunch policy at their June 22 meeting. The state mandated that school districts establish and clearly communicate a local meal charge policy before July 1 for the 2017-18 school year. Although there has been a process in place, this will be the first time the district will have a policy for unpaid meals documented.
In the Hastings School District, there was more than $10,000 in unpaid meals from the 2015-16 school year. At the May 24 board meeting, it was reported that the amount owed in unpaid meals had grown to about $26,000 for the 2016-17 school year. Since that time, school officials said that people have been paying off their balances.
"There is appearing to be a trend of more people choosing to not pay for lunches or breakfast," said Lisa Hedin, school board president.
School lunches operate from a budget and if lunches are left unpaid, the debt must be absorbed. When lunches are not paid by the families of the student, that cost will eventually be absorbed into the general fund of the district.
For families that may have a tighter budget than others, there is the option of free and reduced meals if they qualify. There are two factors that decide whether or not a student is eligible to receive a free and reduced lunch. The size of the household is factored in, as well as income. For example, in a household of four, if the home is receiving an income that is less than $615 on a weekly basis, they would quality for free meals. If the household of four receives $616-$876 per week, they qualify for a reduced-price of meals. The household of four must pay for the meal if their income is more than $877 per week.
The new unpaid lunch policy uses a tiered response in reaction to unpaid meals, which means that there will be slightly different procedures based on the site.
At the high school level, students will be able to receive a verbal notification as soon as their meal account is less than $9. When the meal account falls below $0, they will not be allowed to eat a school meal until the balance is paid. Parents or guardians will be notified at that time.
At the middle school level, students will be verbally notified when their account is less than $9. If their account falls below -$9, a negative account statement with a free and reduced meal application will be mailed to the student's address. An alternate meal will be available for up to four weeks once the account falls below -$21. If the account is still not paid off after the four-week alternate meal, the student will no longer be allowed to eat a school meal until the balance is paid.
At the elementary level, when the meal account falls below -$9, a negative balance statement will be sent to the student's address along with an application for free and reduced meals. If the meal account falls below -$30, the student will receive an alternate meal for up to eight weeks. A letter will be mailed to the student's address explaining the alternate meal process. After the eight week period, if the negative balance is still not paid, the student will no longer be able to eat a school meal.