School district could take parents to court for unpaid lunch debt

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ASHLAND - The Southern Boone School Board is taking a new approach on unpaid school lunches. 

Parents not paying for their children’s school lunch could face small claims court or other consequences.

School Board President Barrett Glascock said, "Some parents just don't pay, so we're going to try to go after that.” 

Right now there are around 70 families who owe approximately $30,000 to the Southern Boone County R-1 School District, according to Southern Boone Superintendent Chris Felmlee. The lunch debt is an annual problem for the school district.

A new policy that went into effect Monday says parents with unpaid meal charges will not be able to attend certain events such as graduation ceremonies. The school district said they will take a family to court if their unpaid school lunch balance hits $500. However, if parents file a payment plan with the school district, they will be able to attend all of the events and avoid court.  

"I think in the past there's been a hands off approach," Felmlee said. "There's really been no consequence."

Felmlee said they are not punishing the students. Every student can still get lunch under the new policy.

This policy does not affect families that already receive government assistance to pay for food. This only affects the families that refuse to pay. Glascock said if families don't qualify for Free and Reduced lunch, the district will come up with a payment structure to collect what they owe. 

“This time we're trying to take an approach to go after the parents," Glascock said. "We will work out a payment plan for them. They can sign up for Free and Reduced Lunch. Some of them just don't fill out the paperwork and they have to fill out the paperwork in order for it to work."

Glascock said unpaid lunch debts have been a problem for years. He said there are some parents who have not been paying for school lunches ever since their child has been in kindergarten all the way through senior year in high school.

“When it first caught our attention, we started to think about ways to maybe punish the kids if you would, to try to get them to start paying or parents to start paying, and then some community members spoke up and said, 'We shouldn't be punishing the kids, you should be punishing the parents that are not paying.'” Glascock said.

Felmlee said the school board is willing to work with families to resolve their unpaid lunch balances. 

“Hopefully I won't have to take anyone to court, but it’s a situation that can be avoided and should be avoided and we're more than willing to work with parents and families cause I know life happens,” Felmlee said. “I don't want to be a burden, but at the same time it’s really not fair to the community, to those that do pay their taxes and their fair share.”

An organizer started a funding page to erase Southern Boone's school lunch debt.  

(Editor's note: This article has been updated with more information.)