A three-year-old school meal policy sent fresh shock through parents last week, as many learned that they could be reported to the Department of Health and Welfare for unpaid bills.

     Public response was strong enough to prompt a letter from the district office clarifying Policy 771, which governs so-called “student nutrition accounts,” a debit system that parents can use to pre-load money onto a card for their children to buy meals.

     That policy states that parents will be notified if a balance dips negative, and will have five days to either pay it, make arrangements to do so in the future or apply for the federal free and reduced lunch program. If they don’t take any of those steps, the school principal “may notify the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, if appropriate.”

     Director of Communications Heather Crocker said she isn’t aware of that having happened in her time at the School District.

     “It’s not part of our normal routine,” Crocker said.

     In accordance with Idaho law, district will contact Health and Welfare if staff believe a child’s safety is at risk, Crocker said, but that hasn’t occurred in the context of the food policy.

     Per the terms of the federal free and reduced lunch program, the School District is required by law to share its food service policy annually. In the past, they’ve sent it alongside the application for that program. This year, the email simply instructed parents to review the policies, with attachments in both English and Spanish.

     “It lacked context,” Crocker said. “It was definitely not our intention to cause concern.”  

     Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes apologized for the confusion in a separate email sent to all parents on Friday.

     “All students will continue to receive a balanced meal for breakfast and lunch regardless of the balance on their family’s account,” she wrote.

     For more on this story, see Wednesday’s edition of the Idaho Mountain Express.  

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