How 2 districts are handling unpaid meal balances and lunch shaming

Let students charge meals

“We allow students to charge meals at all levels; even in high school, they can charge a certain number of meals. [After that is met,] they are given an alternate meal,” says Sharon Glosson, executive director of school nutrition services for North East Independent School District. Elementary students can charge up to $15 of meals; middle schoolers can charge $10; and high schoolers can charge $5. “Ultimately, [food services is] carrying out the policy; but we’re not necessarily the creators of the policy, [nor do we] have the final say ... because that budget decision has to be made by the district. It’s a very difficult situation.”

Waive reduced prices

“I think no policy is not a good idea,” says MaryKate Harrison, general manager of student nutrition services for Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Fla. “What happens is your nutrition managers being debt collection agents. It took an inordinate amount of their time to try to get the money. We would typically reclaim 60% to 65%—about $700,000 to $800,000 of the balances that were outstanding.” Around 2003, Hillsborough County Public Schools waived the 40-cent price for reduced meals, and moved those on a reduced-price plan to free meals. “We don’t have a lot of reduced meals, but only 50% of those kids were eating, and I said, ‘There’s a reason why they aren’t eating.’ When we waived the price, we had 90% [accepting free meals].”


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