The Southern Chester County Weeklies (http://www.southernchestercountyweeklies.com)

Overdue lunch account creates stir; Student at Greenwood given cheese sandwich as substitute; officials look to improve communication with parents


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

By FRAN MAYE

fmaye@21st-centurymedia.com

Kennett Consolidated school officials will be looking for ways to improve communication with parents after a student at Greenwood Elementary School was denied a lunch entree and given a cheese sandwich because his account was overdue by more than $20.

The lunch entrée, consisting of a hot dog, fruit and milk, was given to the fourth-grader, and was quickly taken away after cafeteria workers realized his account was overdue. The lunch was immediately disposed of, and the 9-year-old was handed a cheese sandwich.

The child has what’s known as PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified) and is very specific on what he eats. He does not like cheese sandwiches.

“He said it looked and smelled bad, but honestly, he won’t eat a cheese sandwich any day,” the boy’s mother, Christine Coan, told theStir.com. “Of all the children for this to happen to, it happened to the wrong one. If it had been my daughter, she would have rolled with it, but not Alex.”

The school district had sent the Coans a letter informing of the delinquency, and followed it up with a call. But she received neither, she told theStir.com.

Mark Tracy, assistant superintendent at Kennett Consolidated School District, said the food was disposed of because of health and safety regulations.

“It is disposed of discreetly,” he said. “It is not tossed in a trash can in front of a student. We serve 4,200 students and items removed from a child’s lunch platter cannot be re-served to another student.”

Tracy said the system the district has in place to communicate with parents is very sophisticated. “It allows us to track the balance and types of foods the students are allowed,” he said. “We can monitor what the child is eating and set up an email alert that notifies them if a child’s account exceeds a certain threshold.”

If the lunch balance is $5, the cafeteria cashier will mention it to the student, Tracy said. If there is a deficit of $10, the notice goes to an automated communications system where a phone call is placed to the student’s primary residential phone. The cafeteria manager will also write up a slip that is sent to the homeroom teacher to be sent home with the student, Tracy said.

At a $20 deficit, cafeteria workers will substitute the main entrée with a cheese sandwich in the elementary schools.

“We never deny a child food and will never let a child go hungry,” Tracy said.

Tracy said the district is diligent in sending out reminders, but in this case, something went wrong.

“There are times when many of our parents could have an oversight, and that’s why we send out (lunch account overdue) reminders,” Tracy said. “In this case, it’s unfortunate because it seems the messages didn’t reach the parent. We never presume there is an inability to pay.”

Tracy said it’s the first complaint he’s received about the system this year.

“I think this is a learning opportunity, where we can learn and grow from it,” he said.

The system, he said, is extremely efficient and the district is always reviewing it on ways it can be improved.

“There are convenient ways to pay with our online system,” Tracy said. “It’s the responsibility of the parent to have money in the child’s account.”

Tracy was hesitant to say the incident fell through the cracks.

“We have a very accomplished, strong (cafeteria) manager at Greenwood,” he said. “We do our best to communicate, and we may be enhancing that next year to improve our systems.”

The Coans have since replenished the account with a payment of $100.

Tracy said he had a “favorable” phone conversation with Christine Coan.