State education officials said school districts should have policies to prevent such problems and that written policies about how they collect lunch money and how they inform parents about the program should be put in place.
“There are lots of ways that parents can be aware of their student’s lunch account, either online or contact the school manager,” said Kimberly Loveland, coordinator of child nutrition programs at the state office of education. “They would be more than happy to let you know what those balances are.”
Loveland said parents not paying hurts the school lunch program. Lunch is a federal program, but not fully funded, so schools just get reimbursements for eligible free meals.
“It’s less than 30 cents for a paid meal, which is not enough to cover the cost of the meal,” Loveland said. “So the difference needs to be made up some other way, and that’s why they don’t want to have a lot of negative balances at a time.”
The Salt Lake School District has apologized and said it's investigating the issue. But Loveland said each district has a website to inform parents of lunch balances and to get email alerts.
“Districts have put it online, so you can register online,” Loveland said. “You can view lunch balances, you can get email alerts if your balances are getting low, you can see a purchase history of what your child has purchased every day.”
"(Districts) are trying really hard to make sure parents know at the beginning of the school year and throughout the school year of their policies, and where students' accounts are," she said.
Loveland said there are some parent and community groups that collect funds to help when there is not enough money to cover a meal. There are also federal programs available so students can apply to get free meals.
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