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After dumped lunches, SLC schools will serve only full meals
Education » After the outrage, school district says it will keep kids out of debt disputes.
First Published Feb 07 2014 03:34 pm • Last Updated Apr 03 2014 05:23 pm

All children who want to buy lunch in Salt Lake City district schools will now receive full meals — even if they don’t have enough money in their accounts, according to new procedures released Friday.

No more partial meals will be served, according to new instructions distributed to school kitchen managers Thursday. Parents with negative account balances will be notified every day, and employees will not be allowed to ask kids for payments or ask children to remind their parents.

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The new procedures follow more than a week of criticism directed at the district after The Salt Lake Tribune first reported that as many as 40 Uintah Elementary students had their lunches publicly taken away and trashed because they were behind on their meal payments. The kids were given partial meals of milk and fruit instead.

The story became national news, drawing outrage, threats and donation offers from across the country.

The district has since apologized and placed two employees — the school’s cafeteria manager and her supervisor at the district — on paid administrative leave, pending an ongoing investigation. District leaders have said they were not put on leave for disciplinary reasons.

Jason Olsen, district spokesman, said Friday afternoon the procedures were developed to ensure what happened at Uintah never happens again in the district.

"We reviewed the existing communication procedures and said these need to be more clear, more concise so people can understand them," Olsen said. "We want to make sure everyone in our district understands that students will receive a full meal regardless of any lunch balance."

Erica Lukes, a Uintah parent whose daughter had her lunch taken last week, called the new procedures a step forward. She said she’s happy to hear kids will get full meals.

"That’s good not just for our children but for everyone," Lukes said. "Any kind of circumstance where you’re pointing out a child’s parents haven’t paid a bill or met their responsibility or can’t, I think that’s detrimental to a child’s well-being."

She added, however, that she and other parents still want the district to bring their cafeteria manager back from leave.

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According to the new procedures, each kitchen manager will now be expected to run a daily negative balance report. It will be kept in the kitchen office and given to the principal. Kitchen managers are asked to "keep the school principal informed and ask for their assistance when a student account is getting out of hand."

The procedures also instruct the managers to coordinate with principals on how to effectively notify parents with low or negative account balances. Parents with prepaid amounts must be notified when their balance drops to $10, and every day when they have negative balances.

The changes also clarify that no district employees may ask students for meal payments or ask them to remind their parents. Instead, communication about past-due accounts should be only with parents.

Olsen said the district also worked with its electronic payment system provider this week, and the system will now send out automatic emails to participating parents when their balances drop below $10. On top of that, the district will also send out weekly reminders to parents whose balances drop below $10, and will contact parents with negative balances by phone every day.

Many of the parents whose children had their lunches taken have said they didn’t realize their balances were negative. The district’s previous electronic payment system sent automatic notifications to parents when their balances got low, and many parents have said they didn’t know the district had a new system.

Uintah parent Vanessa May, whose daughter’s lunch was taken last week, said Friday she’s happy to hear the district will strengthen its notification procedures.

"It’s a great way to make sure this doesn’t happen again because sadly a lot of us do get caught up in the hype of our day-to-day," May said, "and it will definitely help keep lunch balances out of the negative."

She said, however, the new procedures still seem a bit vague.

It’s a complaint of board member Michael Clara as well. The changes still leave certain procedures, such as how to handle students whose accounts are "out of hand" up to individual school leaders.

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