Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

February 6, 2014

Lunch payment policies not ruthlessly enforced at local schools

TAHLEQUAH — Reports of a Utah school that denied lunch to about 40 students whose cafeteria accounts were in arrears sparked a nationwide conversation last week, and aimed a spotlight at other school meal policies.

Some parents expressed surprise and disgust with Uintah Elementary School – not because the students were instead given milk and a piece of fruit, but because they were initially given the day’s regular lunch on trays, which were then taken from them and the food thrown away.

The school has since issued a public apology, but parents in Cherokee County may be unaware that schools here can also serve a cheaper lunch to students if their payments fall too far behind in payments.

Cherokee County school districts have official policies, but they are not enforced rigidly. Sometimes a school decides a child’s parents are too delinquent in payment and the child is required to take an “alternative” lunch. But almost all late accounts are resolved - or at least addressed - before that measure is taken.

“We always try to work at it,” said Ronnie Kerns, child nutrition director for Tahlequah Public Schools. “Official policy states that at the beginning of the year or if a student starts mid-year, lunches can be charged for one week while we process the forms for reduced-charge and free lunches. Unofficially, we may let them charge for three weeks.”

Kerns said TPS notifies parents through phone calls and written letters sent home with students when lunch accounts are empty or almost so, and that a lunch can be charged if there is even “one cent” in an account. Students can also take a regular lunch if they pay on a delinquent account.

“We usually take a pretty big hit at the beginning of the year, between $5,000 and $6,000,” Kerns said. “We never turn delinquent accounts in for debt collection or legal action. It is important that parents understand we appreciate payment and need it, but we work with parents, and there are situations where we can make exceptions.”

TPS only expects payment on about a quarter of the lunches it serves. Kern’s most recent figures on the school lunch program indicate 75.9 percent of lunches are served to students who qualify for free lunches.

“Another 9.2 percent of our lunches are served to those who qualify for reduced-cost lunches,” she said. “The rest are served at regular price.”

A typical alternative lunch is a peanut butter sandwich, a piece of fruit and a choice of milk or juice.

Keys Public Schools officials also go the extra mile for students.

“We are never going to let a child go without food,” said Billie Jordan, superintendent. “We’re dealing with kids so we have to be flexible. Sure, we have guidelines, but we also have hearts.”

Keys has social workers assist students through the Backpack Food Program.

“We identify kids who may not have enough food at home,” Jordan said. “A social worker sends food home with those kids so there something to eat over the weekend. They stay in contact with those kids over the summer. Unfortunately, there are a lot of needy children in our county.”

Dr. Marilyn Dewoody, Hulbert Public Schools superintendent, said the district staff “does and outstanding job” of communicating lunch account issues with parents and avoiding “alternative lunch” situations.

“We do have a policy that if they have charges for 10 days, we can serve an alternative lunch,” Dewoody said.

“We try to avoid that at all costs. We lose several thousand dollars each year in lunch charges, but no one wants to see a child go hungry. If they are hungry, they aren’t paying attention in class.”

Linda Clinkenbeard, superintendent at Woodall, said the school is in the first year of a pay-as-you-go lunch policy.

“We used to allow students to charge and parents would receive a bill,” she said. “Now parents can bring money and pay in advance. Families have adapted well and been very cooperative, but in turn, we have tried to be somewhat lenient.”

Some schools, such as Norwood, need not pursue student lunch fees. The school meets USDA Provision 3 requirements, and receives federal cash and commodity assistance for lunches.

Norwood cannot charge any students for lunch and must pay any expenses not met by the federal aid. Provision 3 status must be renewed every four years.


To read about a poll of readers’ opinions of what makes for a fair school lunch policy, go to tahlequahTDP.com


Text Only
Local News
  • jn cvbc fire.jpg Church catches fire after burglaries

    Authorities are looking for the person accused of breaking into the Crescent Valley Baptist Church two times this week and likely causing a fire that damaged the youth building early Wednesday morning.

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • svw Humane photo.tif More volunteers needed to house strays, help with spay-and-neuter

    Furry friends may seem like the perfect addition to round out a family.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Marijuana, seeds lead to four arrests

    Four people were arrested on marijuana related charges early Wednesday morning after a traffic stop on South Muskogee Avenue.

    July 24, 2014

  • Sex offender found living in tent at river

    Cherokee County sheriff’s investigators arrested a convicted sex offender this week when they discovered he has been living in a tent along the river.

    July 24, 2014

  • ts-NSU-MAIN.jpg Fledgling RiverHawks arrive

    Over 200 incoming freshmen took part in orientation class at Northeastern State University

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • svw-TCP-jump.jpg Tahlequah Community Playhouse revving up for new season

    Tahlequah Community Playhouse is kicking of its 41st season with a nod to friendship and aging.
    TCP finished auditions for its first play of the season, “The Dixie Swim Club,” on Tuesday.

    July 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • Infant mortality dropping in county

    When a mom-to-be is expecting a healthy, happy baby, every week of pregnancy is crucial.
    Short gestation, or premature births, is a leading cause of infant mortality. Any child born before reaching 37 weeks of gestation is considered premature.

    July 23, 2014

  • Board considers combining tourism, chamber positions

    Members of the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the local Tourism Council are discussing the possibility of combining two jobs into one.
    Chamber President Steve Turner encouraged board members Tuesday morning to be prepared next month to decide how it will begin a search for a new executive director.

    July 23, 2014

  • New chamber board members nominated

    Three new board members will likely be installed during the regular August meeting of the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce.

    July 23, 2014

  • ts-camp-cherokee-main.jpg Camp Cherokee

    About 500 area youth attending popular camp for tribal citizens.

    In reality, two camps are taking place at the Camp Heart ‘o the Hills: a day camp for children in first through sixth grades, and a residential camp for those in middle and high school.

    July 22, 2014 2 Photos


Do you believe school administrators and college presidents in Oklahoma are paid too much?

Strongly agree.
Somewhat agree.
Somewhat disagree.
Strongly disagree.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
Arizona Prison Chief: Execution Wasn't Botched Calif. Police Investigate Peacock Shooting Death Raw: Protesters, Soldiers Clash in West Bank Police: Doctor Who Shot Gunman 'Saved Lives' 'Modern Family' Star on Gay Athletes Coming Out MN Twins Debut Beer Vending Machine DA: Pa. Doctor Fired Back at Hospital Gunman Raw: Iowa Police Dash Cam Shows Wild Chase Obama Seeks Limits on US Company Mergers Abroad Large Family to Share NJ Lottery Winnings U.S. Flights to Israel Resume After Ban Lifted Official: Air Algerie Flight 'probably Crashed' TSA Administrator on Politics and Flight Bans Raw: National Guard Helps Battle WA Wildfires Raw: Ukraine's Donetsk Residents Flee Senators Push to End Hamas Threat in Cease-Fire A Young Victim's Premonition, Hug Before MH17 Raw: Deadly Storm Hits Virginia Campground Death Penalty Expert: 'This is a Turning Point' Raw: MH17 Victim's Bodies Arrive in Netherlands