Skip to main content

Le Roy schools grappling with unpaid student meal bills

By Howard B. Owens


By policy, every student in the Le Roy Central School District has an opportunity to be served a lunch or breakfast every school day that is healthy and meets established nutritional guidelines.

If they can't pay for it, there's no shame.

These two policies sometimes contradict each other. In circumstances where a child isn't eligible for a free or reduced-price meal but doesn't have any money -- even if they haven't paid for previous meals -- they get served if they step into the meal line.  No staff member is allowed to remind a student of past-due bills.  That's the district's "no shaming" policy.

However, the district is now in the red on unpaid meal bills this school year to the tune of $2,751.58, Superintendent Merritt Holly informed the Board of Education at this past week's meeting.

Currently, staff members are contacting families with unpaid bills.  If a family reports back, "geez, we're really going through a rough time right now," the parents are encouraged to apply for the free or reduced-priced meal program.

"Many times, family situations change," Holly said. "Our job is to help families and bring them in through it."

There are families who aren't paying the bill but don't qualify for the program, so they're expected to pay their past bills. 

"Right now, there's no conversation or take anybody in small claims court are doing those type of things," Holly said. "We're trying to generate, 'Hey, are you aware?' Then if we can, we will work out a payment plan for those families. Sometimes, they're not aware that their child has racked up that bill."

If a parent or guardian doesn't want to keep running up the tab, they can inform the school in writing not to serve a meal to their children.

Even for students not getting free or reduced-priced meals, breakfast and lunch in the cafeterias on each campus are inexpensive. 

At the elementary school, breakfast is $1.70.  At the middle/high school, it is $1.75.  Lunch is $2.25 to $2.40.

Holly said the district tries to be as nice as it can be about approaching parents with bills for unpaid meals, but even so, they've had at least one parent indicate she was offended by the debit letter.

The district has been helped at times by community members making donations to pay meal balances for families, Holly said.

The current no-shaming policy was approved by the Board of Education in 2022 and prohibits students from being stigmatized while in line to get a meal, and students can't be required to wear wristbands, hand stamps or other identification to indicate they have an unpaid meal bill. 

Parents are supposed to be notified when a student has reached five unpaid meals and informed they can apply for the free or reduced-price meal program.

Any student from a home receiving government food assistance or aid for needy families automatically qualifies for the free or reduced-price program.  Other families may qualify but must submit an application and be approved by the district.

The district also has a policy that states, "The Le Roy Central School District wishes to establish a school environment that promotes wellness awareness and is conducive to healthy eating and physical activity for all." The policy is aligned with state and federal guidelines.

Authentically Local