Madison schools’ new policy on unpaid meals: Lots of carrots, no stick

Chris Rickert:

The Madison School District has decided to stop telling children with overdrawn meal accounts that they can’t have the same meals the district gives to children of parents who are keeping up with their bills and to children who are enrolled in the free and subsidized lunch program.

Providing overdrawn children with a bare-bones cheese sandwich lunch is cheaper, but district officials decided it was also an exercise in shaming, especially when a lot of the children were probably poor but whose parents just hadn’t filled out the paperwork to get help paying for them.

“Doing it at the lunch line was very inappropriate,” said School Board member Dean Loumos.

Board president Arlene Silveira didn’t respond to requests for comment about the district’s new plans for handling overdrawn accounts. But Mike Barry, the assistant superintendent of business services, said district staff would make greater efforts to help families apply for subsidies before school starts, as well as make it easier for families to pay their meal bills.

Not under consideration are more punitive measures, Barry said, including sending bills to collection agencies or denying students access to extracurricular activities or their diplomas until meal bills are paid.