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Davidson County Schools to reconsider throwing away high school lunches for students without free lunch or cash

DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Davidson County Schools is reconsidering a controversial lunch policy.

On Friday, FOX8 obtained an email from DCS Director of School Nutrition S. Daved Roberts to cafeteria managers that said “high schoolers will no longer be allowed to charge in the cafeteria.” The change was to go into effect on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

Under that policy, students that did not have money in their account or money on hand to pay for the cost of their lunch would have their plate taken away and the student would not have been served a meal.

If a student were unable to return to the cash register with money, their meal would have been thrown away and wasted, according to the email.

Davidson County Schools said the lunch charge policy had been in place since 2011, and the email was sent to let cafeteria managers know that the policy must be enforced.

On Saturday, Davidson County Schools released the following press release addressing the controversy:

“Understanding that the USDA universally free meals program provided to all students for the
previous two years would no longer be in effect, beginning in July 2022 we communicated this
shift to parents on several occasions. These communications encouraged families to apply for
free/reduced meal benefits due to federal school nutrition guidelines that do not allow students
to carry a negative balance on their school meal accounts.

Schools used the first quarter of this school year to prepare for implementation of the policy that
does not allow high school students to carry a negative balance on their meal accounts which
was adopted in 2011. Prior to the universal nutrition benefits provided during the COVID-19
pandemic, the same process was utilized in high schools. If a student is not eligible for benefits,
there must be some form a payment each and every day. If the student cannot pay for the
meal, since no charges are allowed per federal guidelines, the school must have a financial
means to cover the charge. During the first quarter of this school year, schools allowed these
charges to be added to the student’s school accounts. Unfortunately, these meal charges
escalated rapidly, causing concern for school administrators.

In addition to the free/reduced meal application process, other options exist to assist families
that struggle to consistently pay for student meals. The district further welcomes citizen
contributions to locally established “Angel Funds” which assist in covering meal costs, “back
pack programs” which send non-perishable foods home to food insecure families over the
weekends, and to individual DCS schools which have always provided supplemental snacks to
students using funds raised and contributed for this purpose.

Admittedly, discarding food as a means of addressing this complex issue was not the correct
approach, and we regret that it was not considered more carefully before being communicated
to child nutrition staff. It is not the expectation that meals will be thrown away; prior to the
COVID-19 pandemic universally free benefits, our high schools were able to successfully
implement this same policy. We are committed to reviewing the school nutrition no-charge
policy adopted in 2011, reinstating some of the strategies that enabled us to manage this
successfully before, and consider other recommended best practices for balancing a no-charge
policy expectation by USDA with the goal of ensuring all children have the opportunity for
access to a healthy meal during the school day.

DCS’s statment in a press release on Saturday

Source: Fox 8 News Channel

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