Harrisburg School District lunch policy stirs controversy

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HARRIBURG, S.D. - A school lunch policy is stirring controversy in Harrisburg.

KSFY News received a message explaining that after a student had picked out their lunch and went to pay with their prepaid account, school staff threw their entree away and substituted it with a cheese sandwich.

This was because the student didn’t have money in their account.

The student's parents say the policy creates an environment for bullying to occur and wastes food.
They wish to remain anonymous to avoiding causing their child any further embarrassment.

The parent's statement says it "makes absolutely no sense" why someone doesn't check before students have their food.

Superintendent Jim Holbeck says it's part of a federal policy.

“The federal government has changed that. They require that we are at the end of the lunch line now,” Holbeck said.

He says the reason why they do not have a staff member at the beginning of the line, is due to the fact that it would increase labor costs for the district.

Parents say the policy leaves kids open to bullying.

“The word shaming is use a lot in this sort of thing and we try not to make a very big deal out of it. We don't stamp the hands, we don't mark kids, no one knows that goes through a lunch line, who gets free meals or reduced meals,” Holbeck said.

Parents also worry about food waste.

“Do we give the meal to the student? Well, then tomorrow the same thing happens. We don't know until they get to the end of the line whether they have money in their account,” Holbeck said. “It's very rare that this happens and as a result I don't see that it's a serious food waste issue.”

Holbeck says the cost of giving away lunches can add up fast.
He says before the district implemented this policy parents owed the school thousands of dollars.

“When we tried to collect those, those weren’t paid now who has to pay that? Well the tax payers do,” Holbeck said.

The district now only has about $800 worth of unpaid lunch accounts and that is mostly from the elementary school where this policy isn't implemented.

The price of lunches for middle and high school students is about three dollars.
Parents can go online to put money into their child's prepaid account.
The district sends emails to parents letting them know there is only $10 left.

“All we're asking for is parents to be responsible and if they can't afford it, we have programs that can help,” Holbeck said.

Holbeck says he is open to suggestions about changing the policy.

This policy does not affect kids who receive free or reduced lunch.