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Montana City school lunch policy proposal has some parents upset - KXLH.com | Helena, Montana

Montana City school lunch policy proposal has some parents upset

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The small town of Montana City just south of Helena is proposing a new school lunch policy that has some parents outraged. The small town of Montana City just south of Helena is proposing a new school lunch policy that has some parents outraged.
Tony Kloker, the superintendent of the Montana City School District Tony Kloker, the superintendent of the Montana City School District
MONTANA CITY -

The small town of Montana City just south of Helena is proposing a new school lunch policy that has some parents outraged.

The Board of Trustees for the K-8 district is considering adopting a policy that will give students an ‘alternative meal’ when their lunch account balance has accrued more than $100.

For breakfast, the ‘alternative meal’ will consist of toast, peanut butter, and either milk or juice. For lunch, students will be given a cheese sandwich, veggie sticks, fruit, and milk as the ‘alternative meal.’

The policy says the ‘lunch account monitoring is the responsibility of the parent and student,’ and the school district encourages parents to check the balance using an online system, or prepaying for meals.

Tony Kloker, the superintendent of the Montana City School District, said this policy came from recommendations from the Montana School Boards Association.

“They gave us four to look at, three of those four had an alternative lunch program,” explained Kloker.

Students given the ‘alternative meal’ will be charged at the full price and will continue to receive the cheese sandwich or toast until their account balance drops below $50.

Some parents are calling this policy ‘lunch shaming’ out of fear of potential bullying.

“Schools already have issues with bullying and kids are mean, this just gives them another way to be mean,” said Anne Lenik, a parent of a middle school student.

Lenik said there has to be a better way of handling this problem.

"What they should be implementing is an itemized bill,” she said.

The school said at the end of the 2015-16 school year, there was a $13,000 lunch balance from parents not paying for their children’s meals.

Kloker said they currently communicate with parents about their bills through students, “We sent reminders home with kids, little lunch slips, saying ‘you owe x amount’.”

But not every parent sees that little slip of paper.

“That doesn’t always make it home, it makes it into the bottom of their backpack, makes it into the bottom of their locker,” Lenik said.  “Some of these kids’ backpacks are trash cans.”

The proposed policy would eliminate any sort of notification to parents through email, phone call, or letter sent home explaining an outstanding balance for their child’s meals. The only way parents will be able to see if they owe anything is by going online.

“Hopefully they take the responsibility that they set up the account,” Kloker said. “There’s a reason we have that program available”

For parents like Lenik, the issue is not about the money, or the amount that can accrue; it’s the embarrassment that can come from students getting the ‘alternative meal.’

“If they are going to serve an alternate lunch that’s a cheese sandwich, students are going to know that kid, their parents didn’t pay their bills,” Lenik said.

Kloker insisted the policy wouldn’t ‘lunch shame’ any student, as the school plans to give students the cheese sandwich discreetly.

“It won’t be in the lunch room in front of everyone, where shaming can happen,” he explained.

“They need to be going about this a different way, instead of punishing a child,” Lenik said.

The Montana City School Board of Trustees will have their final reading of the proposed policy and decide further action on March 8th.

Parents are encouraged to attend the meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Montana City School conference room.

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