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Sandwich switch is schools' strategy

December 28, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY

karenh@herald-mail.com

Cashiers in Washington County Public Schools are throwing away food entrees that elementary school students can't afford.

Students are given sandwiches to replace the entrees.

According to Gary Dodds, food and nutrition services supervisor, elementary-school cafeteria clerks allow students to charge two meals if they have not brought cash from home.

Once cafeteria staff members have attempted to contact parents about the outstanding balance, Dodds said last week, the policy is to substitute main entrees with sandwiches on subsequent charges.

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"In some cases, the server, it's hard for them because they don't have the account on the screen ... In some cases, we do throw away in the back room, like, if it's a pizza that's been exposed to the kid, we throw it away in the back," Dodds said.

Especially in larger schools, where cafeteria workers might not know every child and charge balance until students have reached the front of the line, Dodds said, workers sometimes must take food already on a student's tray and throw it away.

If workers are aware of the outstanding balance in time, they can serve the student a sandwich without having to throw an entree away, Dodds said.

Dodds said cafeteria staff might look at ways to make that information more available so entrees will not have to be replaced at the cashier station.

Kathy McBride of Hancock, a mother of two, said Tuesday she is concerned about students being embarrassed by the policy. She said she believes other students will pick on children whose entrees have been replaced.

"Kids get so embarrassed so easily, and it's trauma. They'll rag a kid forever," McBride said.

Dodds said he thinks only a small number of entrees are ever thrown out, but he does not know the exact number. Students' vegetables and fruit choices are not discarded, Dodds said.

The policy does not apply to high school students, who are not allowed to run up balances, or to middle school students, who are allowed only one charge, Dodds said.

"On the elementary school level, we had to have something a lot more defined because we would have parents who would go the whole year without paying," Dodds said.

The Herald-Mail has reported that the district has a policy limiting student charges developed after the 2000-01 school year, when the school system's meal program experienced a $20,000 deficit because of unpaid meals. The shortfall doubled the previous year's deficit.

Dodds said the policy has decreased the number of students who come through the food lines without money. The deficit as of a few weeks ago was about $3,000, Dodds said last week.

According to figures provided by the food services department, last year's deficit was about $6,200 as of June. School and church funds went toward Bester Elementary School's deficit of $1,863.25, and parents throughout the county chipped in about $600 more, Dodds said, bringing the deficit to about $3,768.

The food-service program must absorb the cost of outstanding deficits, Dodds said. He said he is worried debt might force the program to adopt higher prices.

While McBride said she can understand the schools' concern about unpaid meals, she called the substitution policy a "humiliation tactic" used to hurt children whose parents do not or will not pay.

"I think it just shows a waste of food, like we have so much food here in America, we can just throw it away," McBride said.

Some families rack up debts of $50 to $100 a year, Dodds said.

"It's not like we're penalizing a family that may forget every once in awhile to send in the money. It's these parents who just refuse to pay," Dodds said.

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