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HILLSVILLE — Policy changes concerning the school nutrition program at Carroll County Public Schools were approved last week, in order to prevent future abuse of student meal plan accounts.
The previous policy allowed unlimited charges for students who couldn’t pay for their meals at school. This lenient practice resulted in the accumulation of a negative balance totaling more than $41,000 in recent years.
Finance Manager and School Board Clerk Tammy Quesenberry brought this number before the school board in May. She explained that, if charges kept accumulating at this rate, the debt would easily total $60,000 or more in the next two years.
The charges follow each student from year to year, which in some cases has led to alarming balances that are yet to be paid off. For example, one student owed the school $550.
“It’s not going to go away. By the time [these children] get to middle school or even high school, that number will be unmanageable,” Quesenberry said.
In May, the schools began providing alternative lunches for students with negative account balances, who had no money for that day.
In addition, the schools began contacting parents by phone and by sending letters.
The balance came down some as a result, but the schools still wanted policies in place to prevent the number from ever climbing like that again.
The board met on June 26, where they voted on the new school meals policy. The new restrictions will limit elementary students to no more than five charges to their meal accounts, and middle and high school students to no more than three charges.
The new policies were modeled after approved school meal policies in surrounding localities, such as Roanoke, Floyd, Wythe, Pulaski and Radford.
The school is also backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s regulations for school nutrition, which states that no free meals may be served unless a student has an approved meal application.
In addition, the new policies will include the following restrictions:
• No child will be allowed to purchase a la carte items if they have a negative balance on their meal account.
• Balances, both positive and negative, will be carried forward from year to year;
• Administrators may exclude students from extra-curricular activities or restrict privileges for students who have a debt. Students of parents or guardians who have a payment plan and are making payments to reduce their debt will not be excluded or restricted.
• Students will not go hungry. The school nutrition staff will provide any student who can’t pay with a sandwich, milk and a fruit or vegetable to serve as their lunch. Breakfast will consist of cereal, toast, and milk.
• Parents are encouraged to apply for free or reduced meals by contacting the cafeteria manager or school office, if they have not already applied or their income has changed.
The amendments were approved unanimously by the board.
“We need to have a plan in place,” said a board member before the vote. He added that the public had shown a unified understanding, and support of the new policy after it had been publicly discussed.