School lunch update

Across the state and nation, there has recently been a great deal of media coverage about overdue lunch account balances and how some school districts handle these — specifically, “shaming” students by dumping out their lunch tray when their account is overdue. This type of action does not happen in our school district, and I am hoping to share information about our school breakfast/lunch program.

Our district contracts food service with Taher, Inc. and has had a long-standing working relationship with them. Taher staff and management collaborate with district staff on how to handle negative or overdue account balances. Taher and our district shares the understanding that our students and their families are customers and deserve to be treated well. Efforts to collect unpaid or overdue accounts focus on respect, communication, and consistency. We have a detailed policy that we follow, and we make every effort to work with families through frequent and varied communications and providing various payment options. Some overdue accounts do unfortunately end up going through a collection process, but this is after many attempts to collect from, and work, with the family and are only used as a last resort.

Neither Taher nor our district support or encourage, in any way, “shaming” students. Our policy does not allow the removal of a tray from any student, in any age group, regardless of a negative or overdue account. We do not dump or pull trays of food, remove entrees, or condone any type of behavior perceived as shaming of students in the serving line. All students receive the regular-offered meal, regardless of the status of their account or their age. If a high school student who has an overdue account wants to purchase something from the a la carte line, they are told they can get a hot meal through the regular lunch line; however, they are not allowed to purchase items from the a la carte line, as these are considered “extra” items.

There is no place for “shaming” students, and there are many efforts made to communicate with students and families who may have an overdue account balance. Notification is provided to families when an account is at $25 or less, and statements are mailed weekly to families with low balances. When appropriate, or necessary, emails and phone calls are also used with families to discuss payment options. Families are also encouraged to apply for free or reduced price meals for their children. Last year, 1,127 of our students, or 44.5 percent, of our students received either reduced or free meals by meeting income guidelines we are provided by the state of Minnesota.

Two of the beliefs in our strategic plan are 1) that we believe in a safe, respectful and trusting learning environment and 2) that we believe in the value of every student and that relationships are the foundation of successful schools. Along with our policy and partnership with Taher, Inc., these beliefs guide our procedures for serving students meals and working with families, regardless of the status of overdue or unpaid account balances. No matter what, any procedures for providing meals to students must have the focus of the well-being of the student at its core.

Thank you for taking time to read this and for your support of the Marshall Public School District. I hope everyone has a safe and happy winter break.