The Nevis School Board discussed a concern on Monday about how lunchroom staff deals with students who are out of money in their food service account.
Board member Justin Isaacson spoke up about children who “might not have enough to eat at home and at school” because they or their parents can’t afford to pay into the school lunch program.
He said the Healing Hearts Network – a local charity he recently helped start – has heard that some students are either going without lunch or are given a peanut butter sandwich in lieu of a regular school lunch, and he finds this unacceptable.
“We generally go down to about minus $20,” said Superintendent Gregg Parks. “So, the day a kid goes under, we don’t say, ‘Ah! Done!’ … We work with the families on that.”
Parks stressed that the school tries to alert families to the option of applying for free or reduced-price lunch. “If you’re not able to pay your lunch bill during this time period, because of a change to your family’s economic situation,” he said, “we’d help them through the process of signing up for free and reduced lunch.”
Also, Parks said, local churches have donated money to a student aid fund that can be used at the principal’s discretion. “The peanut butter sandwich approach is not used very often at all,” he said.
Isaacson said this needs to be communicated to the people who take payments at the lunch line. He called it demeaning and discriminatory for a child to be “told, in front of everybody else, that you’re getting a peanut butter sandwich today because you don’t have enough money in your lunch balance.” He added that this has led to children being ridiculed.
He extended his concern to elementary students unable to afford milk for their milk break. “It’s infuriating to me,” he said, hinting that Healing Hearts could set some money aside to contribute to low-balance lunch accounts, “to ensure that these kids don’t go without their milk for a milk break, and they don’t go without lunches.”
School board chair Larry Smith advised Isaacson to connect with other non-profit organizations in the community that provide aid to students.
Board members discussed ways the school can communicate with parents about their children’s low lunch balance – including online notifications, Sunday evening phone calls and letters.
Parks added that free and reduced lunch is a major component of the state’s funding formula for schools, but the number of applications went down this year as local employment rates went up. He said the income threshold for the assistance is set at 180 percent of the federal poverty rate.
“It just sounds like we need to get a little more information out there on the free and reduced stuff,” said board member Ed Becker.
Board member Andy Lindow said he thought the intent of the peanut butter sandwich option was to offer a little help.
However, board member Maggie Stacey said she heard from her daughter that “some of the lunch ladies have been pretty boisterous about it” to students who didn’t have lunch money, causing them to be embarrassed in front of other people.
Isaacson suggested training lunchroom staff to use tact when addressing these situations. Parks agreed to address Isaacson’s concerns with the lunchroom workers.