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District drops 'alternate meal' for students

Posted: 4:45 PM, Sep 27, 2015
Updated: 2015-09-27 21:45:27Z

A Missouri school district's idea to provide students who owe the district money with "alternative" meals of a cheese sandwich, apple and water fell flat before ever being implemented, thanks to opposition from the community.

Laina Fullum, nutrition services director for Columbia Public Schools sent an email to parents and guardians in early August saying that any student who owed $15 or more to the district would receive the alternate meal instead of a regular school lunch.

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The alternate meals were to begin Aug. 25, but the district never made the change.

"Many of our principals weren't settled on the idea ," Fullum told the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Superintendent Peter Stiepleman made the final decision after hearing directly from residents, and from school board members who also were getting input about the proposed policy.

"We heard from our community," Stiepleman said. "Our community said, 'We are not a community that refuses our kids food.'"

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Fullum said she told principals in the district that there needed to be a way to hold parents accountable when meal debt wasn't being paid. Subsequently, the principals contacted indebted families and helped them either apply for free or reduced-price meals or pay their outstanding balances.

The district will continue "aggressively pursuing collections" against parents who refuse to pay their debt and will work with them to create payments plans, Fullum said.

One parent said he does not have to pay for his child's school meals because he is a taxpayer, Stiepleman said.

Even though she was the one who initially informed families about the proposed policy, Fullum said she is relieved that the district didn't start serving the alternate meals.

Since the principals started reaching out to the families, the district's unpaid total has fallen to just over $79,000. The unpaid balance was $82,000 in August and nearly $130,000 in July.

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Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com

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