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February 5, 2013

School board responds to cheese sandwich criticism

“Just terrible.”

Steve Hampton, a resident of Whitfield County, had strong words for the “cheese sandwich policy” in county and city schools as he spoke at the Whitfield County Board of Education meeting Monday night.

“Five unpaid charges and then kids have to eat a cheese sandwich,” Hampton said. “Why? Why should kids be punished? That’s bad.”

Students who have more than five unpaid cafeteria charges are given an “alternative lunch” consisting of a cheese sandwich and a carton of milk until their balance is paid off, according to the policy. The Daily Citizen reported on the policy this past Sunday.

The cost of an elementary student lunch varies from district to district, but it’s usually $2 a day.

The reasoning behind enforcing the “set procedure” was a growing deficit of unpaid lunch charges that broke $73,000 last year, school spokesman Eric Beavers said. Since the policy has been actively enforced, six alternative lunches have been served and $20,000 of charges have been paid.

“We’re not a bank,” school board chairman Louis Fordham said. “We’re talking significant dollars ... we cannot extend credit like that ... we’re communicating with students and parents, going above and beyond. Students are given food, but we don’t have unlimited resources ... we’re really just enforcing a policy that has been in place.”

Several school systems, including Dalton Public Schools, have similar policies covering all grade levels. Unlike middle and high school students, elementary school students receive a free breakfast consisting of oatmeal, cereal or other breakfast items.

“Students are given multiple chances to miss payments,” Fordham said. “I’ve talked with students about this as well. Most kids know about the unpaid charges, they just forget to tell parents. But we’re letting them (students and parents) know. At some point though, we have to keep the policy. The key thing is to keep students informed.”

Hampton said he was concerned students were getting “tagged” as impoverished, but county assistant superintendent Judy Gilreath said school officials make sure they don’t “embarrass” a student who cannot afford lunch.

Parents who cannot afford lunch for their children can fill out the Free Meal Application. Both county and city schools offer free lunches — the full menu, not a cheese sandwich — for families who receive help from government programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Women, Infants and Children (WIC); if the student is a foster child; or if the parents’ income is considered limited based on the size of the household.

Zoning concerns

School board members also heard from Gandi Vaughn, a member of the school council at New Hope Elementary and New Hope Middle schools, who said he was concerned about the county school zoning policy.

“When an out-of-zone child is in elementary school and wants to move up in the same school zone, they have to reapply for middle and high school,” Vaughn said. “This is a particularly large problem at New Hope (Elementary) with 36 children who are out of zone and want to go to New Hope Middle, but who have to go through the reapply process.”

Vaughn asked for a policy change allowing students who have applied for an out-of-zone school to be “grandfathered in” and remain on the same school track, dropping the need to reapply before the student’s first year of middle or high school.

“It can be traumatic to wait to see if you’ll make it to the school of your choice at that age,” he said. “The administrative officials at the New Hope (Elementary and Middle) are behind this proposal. And we’d like to know something in a timely manner so we can deal with these students that are graduating in the summer.”

Students feted

Board members recognized Southeast Whitfield High School student Olivia Brewer for her first place submission to the “Art from Georgia Schools” exhibit at the University of North Georgia, Austin Clark and Elvis Cordovi of Coahulla Creek High School for placing first place in the fall Stock Market Game, and several students for being nominated for the 2013 Governor’s Honors Program.

Results of the program will be released in the spring.

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