School lunch shaming: Is it happening in northwest Ohio? - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

School lunch shaming: Is it happening in northwest Ohio?

(Source: AP) (Source: AP)
ROSSFORD, OH (WTOL) -

You may have seen the phrase on social media lately, "Lunch shaming," but is it happening to your kids?

One Rossford woman, Erika Escobar, says it happened to her daughter at Eagle Point Elementary.. 

"The lady said she didn't have money in her account, took the tray, in front of the whole line of kids, threw it away, gave her an Uncrustable peanut butter and jelly," said Escobar. 

Escobar says her daughter is on free lunch, so it should not have happened. Escobar says she talked with the Superintendent who said in her case it was a mistake and that it won't happen again.

That aside, Escobar says she does not like the policy of taking a hot lunch away from a kid if he or she does not have the money.

Rossford Schools says students get a heads up when there's a low balance on their accounts. On top of that, the district says it lets kids charge up to two meals to hold them over.

The district says once a child hits the two meal limit and still doesn't have money, he or she will get what's called an emergency meal.

That includes either a PB&J or Ham & Cheese with fruit and milk. 

"We would not throw the tray away. We would swap out the entree. That is thrown away later when the students are not around," Rossford Food Service Director Julie Kalisik said.

The district says it does not happen often, but you may wonder why can't cafeteria staff cash the students out before they get their food to avoid a potential swap?

"The USDA requires us to count a meal at the point of sale, so we can't charge them prior to them going through the line," Kalisik said.

The district says parents can also sign up for email alerts so they know when their child's balance is low. They can also request accounts to be flagged so a phone call is made to parents when kids are out of money.

Kasilik says there's no written school lunch policy for parents to refer to, but the district is working on one, which needs board approval. 

WTOL 11 checked with a number of school districts in northwest Ohio to find out the school lunch policy. Here's what we found:

Toledo Public Schools:

We offer free breakfast and lunch to all elementary students and at some high schools. Students who can't pay are still provided Type A lunches and forms for free or reduced lunches are sent home with the student. No, the lunch is not thrown away if the student comes through the line and realizes at checkout that they are out funds on their meal cards or if they don't have enough money. 

This is what a Type A lunch includes - these are federal guidelines that TPS must abide by.
Meat Item:  (Often included in your main dish)
Bread Item: (Often included in your main dish)
Fruit: Fresh Fruit or Canned (or 4 oz Juice)
Vegetable: Hot or Fresh Vegetable or Side Salad
Milk: 8 oz carton of Skim White or Chocolate Milk (or 4oz. Juice)
You must select at least 3 of the 5 items, including a fruit or vegetable serving.

Perrysburg:

If a student at Perrysburg Schools goes through the lunch line and does not have money, the student is reminded to bring in money the next day and can eat the lunch they selected. If this happens repeatedly with the same student, the school reaches out to the family to make arrangements. At this time, Perrysburg Schools does not substitute food for students who cannot pay, nor do we deny lunch to students.

Wauseon:

After $10 dollar charge limit, they are provided alternate lunch. Notes are sent home to parents when students reach negative balance. Cafeteria staff knows before kids get in line if they are to get an alternate lunch, so food doesn't have to be thrown
out. 

Maumee City Schools: 

Food Service department has set a negative dollar limit for meal accounts:  

  • $8.25 for elementary
  • $9.00 for middle school
  • $10.00 for high school

A letter is sent home with elementary students on Tuesday and Thursday any time they go into a negative balance. Middle school and high school students are informed verbally anytime their account goes into the negative. If a student's account reaches an amount that will not allow another charge, the student receives a free alternative meal (cheese sandwich, choice of milk, fruit/vegetable). The free alternative lunch doesn't look any different than a regular school lunch. Every child is fed every day. The alternative meal is discussed discretely with the student.

Staff would always know in advance to provide an alternative lunch to students. At the middle school and high school the cashier is at the end of the line so there is more responsibility for older students to know their lunch balance. We are aware that this may have happened in a few isolated cases in the past, but our current practice is that we don’t swap out a student’s lunch entrée. 

Food Service Supervisor stays in close contact with building principals throughout the school year to find out if a family is having a financial hardship and then accommodations are made. The Food Service Supervisor will also contact a family directly when she sees continuing issues with an account being in the negative. This year, this has resulted in families being able to receive reduced-price meals. 

Maumee's elementary student handbook includes the details of this practice (all parents have access to the handbook at back-to-school time and it is on the school district website). Maumee offers parents the option of using an online payment system that can be customized to send emails with lunch
account balances. Checks, cash and credit card payment (on-line) can be made. If a parent proactively contacts Food Service to let them know they forgot to send money with their child or that there was some type of issue that prohibited them for putting money into their child's account, then the negative balance limit can be extended until the parent can get funds turned in. Students eligible for the free & reduced lunch program are never affected. 

Tiffin City Schools:

District used to follow an alternate lunch plan if students couldn't pay, but that has change. All students Pre-K-12the grades are allowed hit a "charge" button if there is not enough money in their account.  Within the next 30 days, parents are informed if their balance is low or there is a charge and are asked to replenish the account. The district says 97 percent of parents do so. If the student doesn't return the money, the debt is dissolved. This is because a local company made a donation specifically for school lunches. There is also a sharing table which is supervised by an adult. Any food that is unopened, that kids don't want to eat is put it on the sharing table. Any student who wants the food, can take it.

Springfield Schools offers parents the convenience of EZPay, an online account management program that allows parents to deposit funds directly into student accounts. To avoid fees from EZPay, parents may also review account balances and provide funds (checks/cash) to the school to be deposited into students' accounts. Access to balances is available online, thus this "deficit" situation should not occur.  On the rare instance that a student's account balance might be insufficient, our food service staff will offer a sack lunch option to the student to ensure s/he does not miss a meal.  

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