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CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio (WJW) — Cuyahoga Falls City Schools administrators have rescinded a controversial policy to address the district’s mounting school lunch debt.
The policy, which took effect April 3, allowed students with negative lunch account balances to get free meals for up to six days, or until the outstanding balance is paid.
“After the sixth day, the food service supervisor will contact the family and the student will no longer receive meals until the account is sufficiently funded,” the measure read.
Parents were outraged.
“I’ve talked to quite a few parents and people are absolutely disgusted with it. Whether they are in this district or not, no one agrees with the decision,” Ruthann Livecchi, a parent of two students, told FOX 8 News in March.
But the policy as drafted didn’t properly convey the intent, administrators said at a Wednesday, April 12, board meeting.
Officials said they wanted a way to better identify families who are struggling to pay for the district’s free or reduced lunch program and connect them with other helpful resources. Its other aim was to address the outstanding balances for a number of families who do have the means to pay for school lunches but simply aren’t willing to pay.
Board members acknowledged Wednesday the policy wasn’t properly communicated to families.
“It never was the intention for any child in this district to go unfed. … That was never going to be the case,” said Superintendent Andrea Celico. “Whatever our messaging was, it certainly fell short in communicating that. We are going to do better.”
A statement the district issued in March reads, in part:
At Cuyahoga Falls City Schools District, we recognize the importance of every child receiving nutritious meals because it is a vital part of setting our children up for success in the classroom. Student meal debt has continued to increase since the start of the school year. As a result of
these challenging circumstances, our district administration recommended new guidelines to help address this problem.
Leading up to this decision, Cuyahoga Falls City School District personnel have implemented several strategies to assist families in keeping their meal accounts funded. We have fed every child, regardless of account status, up to this point. In addition, we have communicated with families about our free and reduced meal program and provided assistance to every family with the application process. Every week, emails and phone calls are made to families reminding them of their account status, and school staff has also made personal calls to families.