Some parents may be confused about the Wilson County School System's new meal charge policy that has them officially "opting in" or "out" to allow their child to charge a meal.
"Our overall charge policy hasn't really changed, except now parents can sign a form that says their child cannot charge a meal," said Food Services Director Melody Turner.
This option is only for those parents of grades PK-8. The charge rate limit has been upped to $10 this year, before action is taken to collect the money. Parents were given detailed information about "opting in," or "out" and instructed to turn their decision in the first week of school. It is in the student handbook and parents were given packets at the start of the school year to explain the change.
Some people may question the alternate meal provided if the charges exceed $10 and not paid. It's one alternate meal at no charge per nine weeks. That alternate meal is breakfast, toast and white milk, and lunch, sunbutter sandwich and white milk. Turner said the change was made after receiving a lot of calls from parents.
"They asked why their child was allowed to charge," Turner said. "Some children had several hundreds of dollars in charges."
In most cases, when the system was not abused," a child simply lost their lunch money or forgot and parents were notified to pay the charge back. In other cases, students saved their money for other things and parents were caught in the lurch. Turner does realize in some cases students' parents may not have the money to pay for lunches, and some, sadly, just don't understand the importance of a hot lunch or packing a lunch for their child. She said in these cases, the nutrition program works closely with the principals. Some principals have accounts provided for this with donations from private citizens and the PTO to fill these gaps. It's a school by school bases.
Generally speaking, students in these grades who are unable to pay for their meals for whatever reason when the meal is serviced are allowed to charge breakfast, and or lunch. Those parents who "opt in" the amount charged allows $10 for full pay students (not on free and reduced program) and $2 for reduced price students. Once the student reaches the charge limit, only one alternate meal will be given to the student, per nine weeks. After that, parents will either need to send a lunch from home or pay the negative balance in full. Those schools with a principal's account may request a child who has exceeded the charge limit that account.
"We go by a week case by case," she said. "There are so many notifications and all sorts of ways to work things out. Sadly, the system has been abused in the past. We, nor the parents, want kids spending on other things. We offer assistance in getting help for individual situations."
Twenty-eight percent of students in the Wilson County School System are on free and reduced programs. That's about 4,400 kids.
"I want people to know we are not turning kids away, we are working to provide assistant," she said. "We are in the business to feed our children."
There is a household automated robo call made every Friday to those whose account balance is under $5. Any negative charge account receives daily robo calls. Those close to a charge limit will receive an email notification.