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Schools change lunch policy

November 30, 1999|By KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY

karenh@herald-mail.com

A Washington County Public Schools elementary school policy meant to reduce the number of overdue bills for meals has changed.

According to a schools administrator, cafeteria workers no longer will replace entrees students already have chosen with sandwiches.

Cafeteria workers will be briefed before the lunch sessions begin so they will recognize right away which students owe money to the cafeteria, Food and Nutrition Services Supervisor Gary Dodds said. If those students are caught at the beginning of the line, they will get sandwiches instead of entrees.

If a student who owes money is not initially recognized by cafeteria workers, that student will be allowed to eat the entree he or she chooses, and no entrees will be thrown out, Dodds said.

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"We'll do our homework right before the whole lunch service starts," Dodds said.

In the past, cashiers who have access to a computer program showing students' payment information sometimes disposed of entrees once they realized students owed money, Dodds said. While substitutions usually occurred at the beginning of the line ? before students had the opportunity to choose their entrees ? Dodds said food was thrown out a couple of times a month across all the county's elementary schools.

Dodds said he is not sure how the new policy will affect the frequency of student "charges" in elementary school cafeterias. A "charge" occurs when a student has no money but is given a meal.

"That's something I'll have to keep an eye on. It seemed like the public felt ... that when the kid did get to the cashier, it was an embarrassment to the kid, and you know, that's the last thing we want to do as an operation," Dodds said.

The sandwich switch can occur as early as a student's third charge, but Dodds said the policy is not enforced until cafeteria workers have had a chance to contact the student's parents to settle the debt.

The new substitution policy will not affect middle school students, who are allowed only one charge, or high school students, who are allowed no charges, according to Dodds.

The substitution policy began after the 2000-01 school year, when the school system's meal program experienced a $20,000 shortfall because of unpaid meals, Dodds said. He said Tuesday that the number of charges has declined, but he plans to monitor the frequency of charges since the policy has changed.

Dodds said cafeteria workers will continue efforts to contact parents whose children owe money for meals. Workers will offer parents payment options, and they tell them about the federal government's free and reduced-price meal program, Dodds said.

"A lot of times, it gets resolved right there," Dodds said.

This year's charge balance stands between $3,000 and $4,000, Dodds said.

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