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Audience members to be allowed to address board regarding lunch debt policy

The Minot Public School Board plans to revisit a somewhat controversial policy regarding how to handle school lunch debt during a special board meeting at 7:30 p.m. this Thursday in the board room of the district administration building.

School board president Jim Rostad said Tuesday that the meeting has been scheduled in response to a critical letter from Deven Mantz that was published on Feb. 1 in The Minot Daily News.

As the letter was directed at the board, Rostad said he felt the board should respond to it at the special meeting and also to give district patrons a chance to speak to the board at the meeting.

Rostad said he will read the current policy, which the board adopted in January. Then he will open the discussion up for comments by other board members and give them a chance to introduce motions or proposed changes to the policy. After the board discussion, Rostad said he will open the discussion up to members of the audience at a public forum. Each person who wants to speak to the board will be given a maximum of three minutes to present any concerns.

Rostad said he had concerns about a couple of things in the policy as written, but wants to see what other board members think. He has also fielded some calls this week from several concerned patrons. He said they are mainly supportive once he has explained how the district has been handling the problem of lunch debt.

Under the policy, kids who don’t have money in their school lunch account can be served a peanut butter or cheese sandwich in a paper bag instead of the regular school lunch. The district allows kids to charge up to $15 on their lunch account before they are given the alternate meal. Parents are contacted about the outstanding lunch debt and are given 15 days to pay off the debt. After that point, the debt could be rolled over or referred to collections. The district might also use an alternative funding source such as federal grants or charitable donations to offset the cost of unpaid lunches. The district also encourages parents to fill out an application to see if they qualify for free or reduced price school lunches under federal guidelines. If they earn too much to qualify for the free or reduced lunches, parents are asked to contact their child’s building principal to see if something can be worked out.

Supt. Mark Vollmer had said that there were only about 18 “unreimbursable meals” served to students in the district last month, so it’s a rare occurrence. In most of those cases, the parents simply forgot to pay the school lunch bill, according to Ivy Thorson, the district’s food services director.

Rostad said he doesn’t think the district needs to accept donations to pay off the outstanding lunch debt in the district. He said there isn’t enough debt to make that necessary and accepting donations could come with caveats.

He said people in the audience might want to raise that issue at the board meeting during the forum discussion.

The policy adopted by the board also states that kids with outstanding lunch debt can be prevented from participating from fee-based extracurriculars until the lunch bill has been paid. The policy also notes that nothing in the policy will prevent school district personnel from reporting any suspected abuse or neglect of a child as required by law.

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