As the summer break winds down and school operations begin to ramp up, there are a thousand issues and details which are at the front of school officials’ minds. Prior to the beginning of the school year, a district’s lunch program is probably on the back burner of attention, but administrators should know that there will inevitably come a time during the year when the simmering issue of students with a negative balance on their school breakfast and/or lunch accounts will come to a boil.
School administrators should keep in mind that there are established rules on how to deal with arrears.
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:33-21, a student’s parent or guardian must be contacted and notified of the arrearage. The parent/guardian must be allowed a “grace period” of 10 school days to pay the amount due. If the arrearage is not paid in full after ten school days, you must contact the parent/guardian again; this time to notify them that, starting one week after the second notice, the student will not be served breakfast and/or lunch until payment is made in full.
Also, keep in mind that N.J.S.A. 18A:33-21 was recently amended to require schools to report to the Department of Agriculture, at least biannually, the number of students in the district who are denied school breakfast and/or school lunch because their account is in arrears.
If your district is concerned about lunch account arrears, it would be wise to revisit (or establish) the district’s policy on the subject. It may be advisable that your policy, in addition to following the statutory requirements, also establish the triggering thresholds (both amount and time) for district action -- so that small arrearages don’t grow into large ones. You may also want to have your policy set forth the specific procedure to be followed – such as whether breakfast and/or lunch will not be served or if a “modified” breakfast and/or lunch will be served – in the event that a student account remains unpaid.
It is always a good idea to consult your board attorney, who can advise and help the district craft an effective policy. For more information and guidance on this topic, please contact the attorneys in Parker McCay’s Public Schools and Education Department.
The content of this post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion. You should consult a lawyer concerning your specific situation and any specific legal question you may have.