Rhode Island School District Sics Debt Collectors on Families Over Unpaid Lunches

A Rhode Island school district hired a private debt collection agency to go after families of students who have unpaid lunch bills, WPRI reported.

Cranston Schools Chief Operation Officer Raymond Votto Jr. sent a letter to parents in the district informing them the district has hired the collection agency Transworld Systems.

Votto said that the school district wrote off over $95,000 in unpaid lunches between September 2016 and June 2018.

"In the past, the school district has attempted to collect unpaid lunch balances without much success," Votto said in the letter. "The District lunch program cannot continue to lose revenue."

According to the school’s lunch policy, “Once a student has charged five (5) meals (middle\high school $16.25 & elementary $12.50) and no payment has been received, that student will receive a lunch consisting of a sunny butter sandwich, fruit, and milk in place of a hot lunch. This meal maintains the USDA standards surrounding reimbursable meals and will be charged at full price to the student’s account.”

If parents fail to pay, the collection agency will report them to national credit bureaus.

School lunch bills become controversial: School districts have dealt with similar issues in different ways in recent years.

The New York Times reported last year that many schools have resorted to “lunch shaming.”

“The practice is widespread – a 2014 report from the Department of Agriculture found that nearly half of all districts used some form of shaming to compel parents to pay bills. (About 45 percent withheld the hot meal and gave a cold sandwich, while 3 percent denied food entirely),” The Times reported. “A Pennsylvania cafeteria worker posted on Facebook that she had quit after being forced to take lunch from a child with an unpaid bill. In Alabama, a child was stamped on the arm with ‘I Need Lunch Money.’ On one day, a Utah elementary school threw away the lunches of about 40 students with unpaid food bills.”

California and New Mexico have since passed laws banning “lunch shaming.”

A school in St. Paul, Minnesota started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for children who can’t afford lunch.

“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?”


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