A Rhode Island school district is taking extreme measures to go after delinquent lunch accounts. According to USA Today, parents who do not pay their lunch balances will receive a letter from the collection agency hired by Cranston public schools.
“In an effort to reduce our unpaid balance, the District has retained the services of a collection agency,” Raymond Votto Jr., chief operating officer of the city’s public schools, wrote in a recent letter to parents. “The company is Transworld Systems and they will begin their collection efforts effective January 2, 2019.”
According to school administrators, from September 2016 to the end of June 2018, the school district lost $95,508 from unpaid lunches, the Providence Journal reports. For this academic year, the unpaid balance has already reached $45,859. Families will have two months to settle their debt to the school board, after that the collection agency will come after them.
Schools across the U.S. have resorted to unusual methods to get families to pay down lunch debts. Last month, a school in St. Paul, Minnesota, launched a GoFundMe account last month to raise money for children who can’t afford lunch and have unpaid balances.
“Beginning next week, students with a negative lunch balance will be served cheese sandwiches for lunch. It is our passion and goal to avoid the social stigma and nutritional impacts of this alternative lunch practice,” the fundraising page said. “Would you partner with us to meet this need for our students?”
Other schools have taken even more drastic measures, like throwing entire meals in the garbage after discovering a child has unpaid lunches, the New York Times reported in a story on “lunch shaming” last year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture wrote in a 2014 report that nearly half of all schools shame kids in some way when they have lunch debts.
Some states like California and New Mexico have decided to ban “lunch shaming.”
“When you’re treated differently as a child in school, it’s shameful,” California state Sen. Bob Hertzberg said last year, announcing his anti-lunch shaming legislation had become law. “And in this case, the child is being harmed as a tool to collect their parent’s debt. That makes no senses whatsoever.”
As for students from Cranston public schools, they won’t be denied lunch if they don’t have money. Lunch is $2.50 at elementary schools and $3.25 at middle and high schools. Votto reassured parents that the children will continue to be fed no matter what their balances are. He added that parents get a notice when their child eats five times with no money in their lunch account. Cranston public schools said the collections company will be mailing and not calling parents about the debts in an effort to make the process less unpleasant.