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Policy 534 - Unpaid Meal Charges

I. PURPOSE

The purpose of this policy is to ensure that students receive healthy and nutritious meals through the school district’s nutrition program and that school district employees, families, and students have a shared understanding of expectations regarding meal charges. The policy of the school district is to provide meals to students in a respectful manner and to maintain the dignity of students by prohibiting lunch shaming or otherwise ostracizing the student. The policy seeks to allow students to receive the nutrition they need to stay focused during the school day and minimize identification of students with insufficient funds to pay for school meals as well as to maintain the financial integrity of the school nutrition program.

II. PAYMENT OF MEALS

  • Students have use of a meal account. This account is meant to be a prepaid system, with money in the account before meal service begins. When the balance reaches zero, a student may charge a reimbursable meal only. Once an account is negative, the District will follow the negative meal balance procedure to make the account whole. When an account becomes negative, a student shall not be allowed to charge a la carte items until the negative account balance is paid. Payments can be made online through the District website, at the District Office, or payments can be sent to the Food Service office.
  • If the school district receives school lunch aid under Minnesota Statute section 124D.111, it must make lunch available without charge to all participating students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals regardless of account balance.
  • A student with an outstanding meal charge debt will be allowed to purchase a meal if the student pays for the meal when it is received.
  • A student who has been determined to be eligible for free and reduced-price lunch always must be served a reimbursable meal even if the student has an outstanding debt.
  • Once a meal has been placed on a student’s tray or otherwise served to a student, the meal may not be subsequently withdrawn from the student by the cashier or other school official, whether or not the student has an outstanding meals balance.
  • The school district may provide an alternate meal that meets federal and state requirements to a student who does not have sufficient funds in the student’s account or cannot pay cash for a meal. The school district will accommodate special dietary needs with respect to alternate meals. The alternate meal will be served at no charge to the student account.
  • When a student has a negative account balance, the student will not be allowed to charge an ala carte or snack item.
  • If a parent or guardian chooses to send in one payment that is to be divided between sibling accounts, the parent or guardian must specify how the funds are to be distributed to the students’ accounts. Funds may not be transferred between sibling accounts unless permission is received from the parent or guardian.

III. LOW OR NEGATIVE ACCOUNT BALANCES – NOTIFICATION

  • The school district will make reasonable efforts to notify families when meal account balances are low or fall below zero.
  • Throughout the process, Food and Nutrition office personnel will work with families to determine if a Free or Reduced application is appropriate, if there is a temporary financial issue that has delayed the payment to the lunch account or if the parent wishes to set up a payment plan to get the lunch account current.
  • Reminders for payment of outstanding student meal balances will not demean or stigmatize any student participating in the school lunch program, including but not limit to, dumping meals, withdrawing a meal that has been served, announcing or listing students’ names publicly, or affixing stickers, stamps or pins.

IV. UNPAID MEAL CHARGES

  • The school district will make reasonable efforts to communicate with families to resolve the matter of unpaid charges. Where appropriate, families may be encouraged to apply for free and reduced-price meals for their children.
  • The school district will make reasonable efforts to collect unpaid meal charges classified as delinquent debt. Unpaid meal charges are designated as delinquent debt when payment is overdue, the debt is considered collectable, and efforts are being made to collect it.
  • Negative balances of more than $60, not paid prior to the end of the school year, will be turned over to the superintendent or superintendent’s designee for collection. In some instances, the school district does use a collection agency to collect unpaid school meal debts after reasonable efforts first have been made by the school district to collect the debt. Collection options may include, but are not limited to, use of collection agencies, claims in the conciliation court, or any other legal method permitted by law.
  • The school district may not enlist the assistance of non-school district employees, such as volunteers, to engage in debt collection efforts.
  • The school district will not impose any other restriction prohibited under Minnesota Statutes section 123B.37 due to unpaid student meal balances. The school district will not limit a student’s participation in any school activities, graduation ceremonies, field trips, athletics, activity clubs, or other extracurricular activities or access to materials, technology, or other items provided to students due to an unpaid student meal balance.

V. COMMUNICATION OF POLICY

  • This policy and any pertinent supporting information shall be provided in writing (i.e., mail, email, back-to-school packet, student handbook, etc.) to:
    • all households at or before the start of each school year;
    • students and families who transfer into the school district, at the time of enrollment; and
    • all school district personnel who are responsible for enforcing this policy.
  • The school district will post this policy on the school district’s website, or the website of the organization where the meal is served, in addition to providing the required written notification described above.

Legal References:

  • Minn. Stat. § 123B.37 (Prohibited Fees)
  • Minn. Stat. § 124D.111 (Lunch Aid; Food Service Accounting)
  • 42 U.S.C. § 1751 et seq. (Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act)
  • 7 C.F.R. § 210 et seq. (School Lunch Program Regulations)
  • 7 C.F.R. § 220.8 (School Breakfast Program Regulations)
  • USDA Policy Memorandum SP 46-2016, Unpaid Meal Charges: Local Meal Charge Policies (2016)
  • USDA Policy Memorandum SP 47-2016, Unpaid Meal Charges: Clarification on Collection of Delinquent Meal Payments (2016)
  • USDA Policy Memorandum SP 23-2017, Unpaid Meal Charges: Guidance and Q&A

Policy Adopted: 08/14/17
Policy Revised: 11/13/18
Policy Revised: 3/9/20
Policy Revised: 9/12/22

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