TOWANDA BOROUGH — In their latest meeting on Monday, the Towanda School Board talked food service policy in the school — a hot button issue nationwide.
Superintendent Dennis Peachey said in the meeting that he received a memo from the Pennsylvania Department of Education asking schools across Pennsylvania to consider policy changes for food services at the school.
“We looked at our current policy and the one from PSBA (Pennsylvania School Board Association) that had added language and found that we were doing pretty well with it, but that we should add the language recommended by PSBA.”
Peachey said that the school already practices the changes recommended, and that the change in policy would cement their practices.
One of the changes in the policy recommended by the PSBA was that the school district shall conduct direct certification three times per year to determine which students are eligible for free school meal benefits.
“We actually do a nice job with that already,” Peachey explained in the meeting. “We do it at the beginning of the school year, and Doreen (Secor, the district’s business manager), correct me if I’m wrong, but when we looked at it, we felt that our staff was actually running that report and trying to identify people more often than the policy says.”
Secor confirmed that the report is already run monthly.
Other changes recommended by the PSBA include language that stipulates that students should not be denied a school food program meal if they do not have the money to pay for the meal or if the student has a negative balance in their school meal account, and rules on how many times and the manner in which a negative account balance notice should be given to parents, guardians or high school students. The changes also included language that prohibits the school from publicly identifying or stigmatizing a student who cannot pay for a school meal, requiring students who cannot pay for a meal to perform chores or other work to pay for the meal and requiring a student to discard a school food program meal after it was served due to the student’s inability to pay for the meal.
“We don’t do that and we have never done that,” Peachey said of the actions that would be prohibited under the new rules. ”We feel like we take a good common sense approach to it.”
Recently, national attention was given to Wyoming Valley West, another northeast Pennsylvania school, after the school sent a letter home to the families of students with food service debt demanding payment that said the families faced the possibility of being taken to court for custody of their children. Other similar situations, such as an Alabama school stamping children’s arms with “I need lunch money” and a Minnesota school attempting to prohibit students from graduating with a lunch debt, have turned lunch shaming into a nationwide issue.
“I wouldn’t say it was specifically that situation… it’s not just because of that,” Peachey said of the Wyoming Valley West incident possibly forcing these changes. “But, maybe the state was running up against this stuff a number of times so they put out the memo and we acted on it.”
“It’s extremely important,” Peachey said of not shaming or publicly stigmatizing students that have economic issues in the school. “That’s integral and something we take very seriously. I feel that our staff has been very discreet in those types of situations.”
The school board plans on voting on the new policy in their next board meeting on Monday.