Many schools have raised student lunch prices this year to keep up with rising costs. Morgan County kept its student lunches at $1.25, but school began there this week with the system facing more than $10,000 worth of unpaid lunch money.
Some parents there are irate over what the school system is doing to collect the debt. When letters and phone calls simply reminding parents that their child's lunch account was severely overdue didn't seem to work, the Morgan County Board of Education sent out a letter with this warning: "We can turn the account over to a collection agency, we can go to small claims court, we can garnish wages or we can serve your child an alternative meal like crackers with peanut butter and water. No one wants to see your child eating this fare when other kids are eating pizza or spaghetti or chicken nuggets. However, you leave us with no alternative."
Morgan County Superintendent of Schools Joe Dan Gold tells 27 NEWSFIRST, "The bottom line is I don't think we took that option with any student last year. But we were trying to make a point that it is an option. It has been an option for I guess forever almost."
Morgan is one of the counties in Kentucky with at least a ten per cent unemployment rate, but most of the letters sent out were not to low income families.
Superintendent Gold says, "These were parents who either did not fill out a free or reduced lunch form or did not qualify for those programs."
And the letter encourages parents to contact the school if they've started having financial problems. Gold say, "If you've been laid off or you have an illness or there's some extenuating circumstances, all you have to do is call the school and we will work with you."
Parents who spoke with 27 NEWSFIRST on the condition of anonymity said the only part of the letter that really bothered them was the part about giving their child an alternative meal of crackers and water, and Superintendent Gold admits, "We could probably have softened that a little bit. I think that may have been a little harsh, but we certainly accomplished what we wanted to do, to raise awareness."
Fayette County does provide an alternative meal of a cheese sandwich and milk to any student who account is unpaid, and some counties have a "no money, no food" policy for all delinquent accounts.