The good news is that prices for lunches at Sulphur Springs schools will not increase this year. There will be a few changes to the school lunch policy and menu, however. A new policy will address cafeteria charges and a federal guideline will affect the breakfast menu this year.
“We are looking to forward to feeding a lot of children. I am confident we can communicate with households for a positive year,” said Sulphur Springs Independent School District Food Service Director Rickie Elliott.
The school lunch program is offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Texas Department of Agriculture through the Child Nutrition Program. Districts are eligible for reimbursements and funding through those agencies and thus must adhere to strict federal and state guidelines regarding foods served.
Due to USDA regulation, the district is implementing a policy by which students will be able to charge only up to $25 for meals, and no charges can be made for “a la carte” meals.
“USDA requires we have a policy and implement it. We have to be more attentive in enforcing it,” Elliott explained. “We are not in the business to not see kids eat. We are mandated by USDA to have a policy and hold them accountable in the same manner.”
Once the student has $25 in meal charges, that student’s account will be marked and the student will not be allowed to receive a meal from the regular choices until the fees are paid. Students will be required to pay any charges at the end of each month.
“We have a few who break the rules, but this is blanket policy,” Elliott said. “We have some families that pay every week. Some get behind, but catch up.”
However, that does not mean that students will not receive food. Students will not go hungry simply because they can’t pay for their lunch. Those students who have maxed out their $25 in charges can still receive a cheese sandwich, milk and piece of fruit.
“The school board agrees this touches a place in the heart. If families struggle with income, we have free and reduced lunches. Some purchase lunches and pay, but some parents fall between the cracks — they are not eligible for meal benefits but not quite able for whatever reason to pay. We will work with any family. We are aware life happens. Most second and third graders don’t have a job, are not in charge of finances or lunch charges. Some secondary students do not manage finances well. We realize that. No child will go hungry,” she said.
Elliott said applications to determine eligibility for free or reduced price school meal forms are distributed at the start of each school year. Household income determines eligibility. Parents are encouraged to fill them out. If financial situations change during the year, they can contact their school to report that change for lunch purposes.
Parents and students also need to note the second part of the policy change regarding charges — it concerns what items may be charged to a student’s meal account. Students may only charge meals. Nothing considered a la carte can be charged. That means students can’t charge a pack of chips or “extras” in any line or campus.
“All lines at middle school and high school offer reimbursable meals. So kids can still get a sandwich meal from that line or salad meal at lunch, or a breakfast. Those can be charged, just no extras or a la carte,” Elliott said, noting that as long as the purchase is a complete meal it can be charged if needed, provided the student hasn’t already charged $25 to their account.
The third change deals with a food guideline set by the USDA in 2012, that affects the type of grains offered to students as a part of school meals. By the 2014-15 school year, all grains offered at schools must meet a whole-grain rich criteria. So that schools didn’t have to make that change suddenly, the rule provided a two-year plan to phase it into school menus.
The first phase required half the grains offered at lunch at schools starting July 1, 2012 to be whole-grain rich. The second phase required half the grains offered at breakfast starting July 1, 2013 to be whole-grain.
The district started making half the grains provided at lunch whole grain. This year, half the grains offered at breakfast throughout the week will be whole grain. Next year, per the rule, all grains will be whole-grain rich.
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