CPS Students with negative meal balances will get cheese sandwich

COLUMBIA - Students in Columbia Public Schools will not be able to get a regular lunch starting August 25 if they have a negative lunch balance of $15 or more.

CPS sent out an email with the information to parents Wednesday stating students would get a cheese sandwich and apple for lunch and water would be available for the students to drink.

CPS Director of Nutrition Services Laina Fullum said the alternate cheese sandwich lunch option was a senior administrative decision. She said the district also talked about not providing any meal for students with a negative balance of $15 or more.

"We need to feed students something, so a cheese sandwich and an apple is what was decided," she said.

For the past two years, Fullum said, the district allowed students to buy food even if they had a negative balance without saying anything to the students. Fullum said the district, at that time, would just talk to the students' parents.

Fullum said over the past two years, CPS Nutrition Services accumulated about $120,000 in debt from unpaid lunches. She said the new plan came about as a way to curtail further debt.

Fullum said the other option the district discussed was to continue to absorb the unpaid lunch fees, but that would take money away from the nutrition services department and then ultimately the general education funds.

"That affects the classrooms," Fullum said. "Those are funds that could pay a teacher."

Fullum said, if a student does have to eat the alternate lunch because their account is in the negative, officials will first ask if the student has filled out a free and reduced lunch application and then look into why the student cannot afford the lunch.

"We try to make sure we exhaust all possibilities with our students," she said.

Fullum said after the district sent the email Wednesday, a lot of parents called or went into the district office to fill out applications for free and reduced lunches and pay lunch bills.

She said many families also called in expressing interest in making donations, which can be done on the district's website.

"We have a lot of caring teachers and folks committed to making sure all students are treated with respect and dignity," Fullum said.

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