Policy 5028: Charging School Meals
The Board of Education recognizes that on occasion, students may not have enough funds to pay for a meal. To ensure that students do not go hungry, but also to promote responsible student behavior and minimize the fiscal burden to the District, the Board will allow students who do not have enough funds to "charge" the cost of meals to be paid back at a later date, subject to the terms in this policy.
Compliance with State Guidelines
To comply with State guidelines and maintain a system for accounting for charged meals, regarding both full and reduced-price meals:
- Free eligible students will be allowed to receive free meals each day. À la carte items must be paid/prepaid.
- When a student’s account reaches the District designated minimum balance, the online meal-pay system or District, as appropriate, will notify the parent/guardian (“parent”).
- When a student’s account reaches a District designated negative balance, the District will commence a communication procedure directly with parents to collect the balance and replenish the account.
- The District will use a computer-generated point of sale system, which identifies and records all meals as well as collects repayments.
- For District and food service accounting purposes, charged meals that result in a negative balance must be counted and claimed for reimbursement on the day that the student charged (received) the meal, not the day the charge is paid back. When charges are paid, these monies are not to be considered “à la carte” transactions.
- Students who have reached the limit of “charged” meals will be provided a reimbursable meal of the student’s choice, upon request, but will not be provided with à la carte items, adult meals or similar items. The cost of the meal shall be added to the student’s account.
- If a student’s parent has provided specific written permission to the District to withhold meals, no meals will be provided.
- In no event will a meal be taken away from a student once purchased.
- In no event will a student who owes money for meals be publicly identified, stigmatized (including wristbands or hand stamps), required to do chores or other work to pay for meals or have meals thrown out after they have been served. District staff will not take any action directed at a student to collect unpaid meal charges.
- Homeless, foster and migrant students will be provided with free school meals in accordance with federal law. School liaisons required for these students will coordinate with the Food Service Department to ensure that such students receive free school meals.
Unpaid Meal Charges and Debt Collection
Unpaid meal charges are a financial burden to the District and taxpayers and can negatively affect the school program. Unpaid meal charges shall be considered “delinquent” as per the District’s accounting practices.
Parents shall be discretely notified of student account balances regularly. When a student’s account balance falls to a District determined amount and whenever a meal is charged, the District will discretely notify the parent of the balance, the process to refill the account, and the District’s policy on charging school meals. This notification will continue regularly until the account is replenished. Parents must repay all unpaid charges remaining at the end of the year or before their child leaves the District. In no event will the District attempt to collect unpaid school meal fees directly from a student or discuss outstanding meal debt in the presence of other students.
For students who owe money for five or more meals, the District shall:
- Determine whether the student is directly certified to be eligible for free meals;
- Make at least two attempts to contact the parent to complete an application for free meals, including offering assistance in completing the application, determining if there are other factors causing the nonpayment and offering other assistance as appropriate;
- If a parent regularly fails to provide meal money and does not qualify for free or reduced price meals, the District may take other actions as appropriate, including notifying the local department of social services if neglect is suspected.
If the District learns that a student who has not submitted a meal application is eligible for free or reduced meals, the District shall complete and file an application for the student.
Students eligible for free and/or reduced meals shall not be denied a reimbursable meal, even if they have accrued a negative balance from other cafeteria purchases. No student with unpaid charges will be prohibited from purchasing food if they have money that day.
The District shall attempt to recover unpaid meal charges, as indicated by a negative balance in the student account, before the end of the school year, but may continue efforts into the next school year. The District will not use a debt collector to recover unpaid meal charges and will not charge parents interest or fees on unpaid account balances.
The parents of students with overdue accounts shall be notified at least quarterly about unpaid balances due the District. Such unpaid balances, after three (3) consecutive quarters, will be subject to review by the School Attorney who shall correspond with the parents about arrangements for repayment in an attempt to avoid the necessity of commencing legal proceedings to recover past due monies.
Any funds remaining in the account at the end of the school year will be carried over to the next school year. When students leave the District or graduate, the District will attempt to contact the parent to return remaining funds. Parents may request that funds be transferred to other students (e.g., siblings, unpaid accounts). All transfer requests must be in writing.
Staff members are allowed to purchase food from the District’s food services. However, all purchases must be paid for at the point of sale with cash or a prepaid school lunch account. Staff members are not allowed to charge meals to be repaid later.
The District shall develop a plan to ensure that students whose parents owe money for school meals are not shamed or treated differently than other students. This Plan shall be submitted to the Commissioner of Education by July 1, 2018 and shall thereafter be adopted by the District and posted on the District website.
The District shall notify all parents/guardians in writing on an annual basis at the start of the school year and to families transferring during the year, outlining the requirements of this policy. The policy shall also be published on the District website.
All staff involved in implementing and enforcing this policy shall also be notified of these requirements and their responsibilities. Building principals, working with the Food Service Director, will ensure that all District and food service staff with responsibilities under this policy will be trained on the provisions of this policy and the requirements of Section 908 of the Education Law in order that this policy and the District’s plan are properly implemented.
- 42 USC §1779 (Child Nutrition Act of 1966)
- 42 USC §§1758(f)(1); 1766(a) (National School Lunch Act)
- 2 CFR §200.426 (accounting for debt in federal programs)
- 7 CFR §§210.9; 210.12; 210.19; 220.13; 245.5 (accounting in federal school meal programs)
- § 908, Education Law
- Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (Public Law 111-296), §143
- USDA Report to Congress, Review of Local Policies on Meal Charges and Provision of Alternate Meals, June 2016,
- Unpaid Meal Charges: Local Meal Charge Policies, USDA FNS Memo SP 46-2016 (07/08/16),
- Unpaid Meal Charges: Guidance and Q&A, USDA FNS Memo SP 57-2016 (09/16/16),
- Unpaid Meal Charges: Guidance and Q&A, USDA FNS Memo SP 23-2017 (03/23/17),
- Unpaid Meal Charges: Clarification on Collection of Delinquent Meal Payments, USDA FNS Memo SP 47-2016 (07/08/16),
- Overcoming the Unpaid Meal Challenge - Proven Strategies from Our Nation's Schools, USDA FNS Guidance Document (May 2017),
- Student Meal Charge Policy, NYSED Guidance Memo, (5/30/17),
Adopted: December 5, 2018