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Austin Public Schools

Policy 534 - Unpaid Meal Charges

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[Note: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Policy Memorandum SP 46-2016 requires all School Food Authorities (i.e., school districts) operating federal school meal programs to have a written and clearly communicated system to address unpaid meal charges by July 1, 2017. USDA Policy Memorandum SP 23-2017 clarified that school districts could adopt a “policy” or “standard practice.” Although this document is styled as a “policy,” school districts may establish and implement a set of written procedures instead of a policy, provided that the written document explains how the school district will handle situations where students eligible to receive reduced-price or paid meals do not have money in their account or in hand to cover the cost of their meals at the time of service. The policy or standard practice must be implemented throughout the school district.]

[Note: This MSBA/MASA model policy is drafted to be consistent for all grade levels. However, local school districts may vary the meal charge policy for elementary, middle, and high schools.]

[Note: School districts must follow appropriate debt collection practices when attempting to recover 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 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

[Note: Payment systems and procedures will likely vary from school district to school district. The school district should select one of the following options and delete the remaining options.]

  • A. 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. Students are reminded that account balances are getting low when they have $8 remaining in their account. Students in Grades K-4 are given 3 written notices, when they have $8, $2 and $0. Students in Grades 5-12 receive daily verbal remindersFamilies may make a payment by sending checks or cash with their student to each school, bring or mail checks to the AHS Cashier’s Office (301 3rd St NW, Austin, MN 55912) or going on-line to mypaymentsplus to pay via checking account, credit or debit card.
  • Parent Contact
    • Initial Parent Contact: Grades K-12 parents will be notified via phone, text, or email that a payment is needed when account reaches negative $5.
    • Second Parent Contact: Grades K-12 parents will be notified via phone, text, or email that a payment is needed when account reaches negative $10.
    • Third Parent Contact: Grades K-12 parents will be notified via letter that a payment is needed when account reaches negative $15.
    • Fourth Parent Contact: Grades K-12 building administrators will be notified and may contact parents when account reaches negative $20.
    • Fifth Parent Contact: Final notification letter that a payment is needed will be sent when account reaches negative $25. Parents will be notified that students will receive alternate gratis lunch when account reaches negative $30.
    • Sixth Parent Contact: Final notification via phone, text, or email that a payment is needed when account reaches negative $30. Students will begin receiving alternate gratis lunch.
    • Cashiers and teachers will notify students that they will receive alternate gratis lunch before lunch period that day.
  • If the school district receives school lunch aid under Minn. Stat. § 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.
  • 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 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. A meal will not be taken away from a student with an overdrawn account.

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.
  • The school district may not enlist the assistance of non-school district employees, such as volunteers, to engage in debt collection efforts.

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 may post the policy on the school district’s website, in addition to providing the required written notification described above.

Legal References:

  • Minn. Stat. § 124D.111, Subd. 4
  • 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

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