VTPS board addresses negative food balance, entrance age to the district

Board removes “alternate meal” wording from previous policy

Jennifer Palmer, a teacher at Kresson Elementary School, is recognized at the Voorhees Township Public Schools Board of Education meeting Monday, Nov. 25 for 25 Years of Service with the district. Pictured is Palmer, right, with board president Dawn Wallace, left.

The Voorhees Township Public Schools Board of Education met for its monthly meeting  Nov. 25 at Kresson Elementary School. Topics included a policy change regarding outstanding food charges as well as the entrance age to enter the school district.

The board passed the second reading of a policy that updated how the district dealt with accumulated breakfast and lunch debt for students. According to board Business Administrator Helen Haley, the previous policy did not address the issue to the board’s liking.

With the revision, Haley says the district is restarting weekly communication with parents and guardians when students are in arrears on their food balance.

“We’ve reinstituted weekly phone calls and emails with parents whose student balance have a negative balance,” Haley explained. “This policy kicks in at negative $20, when the parents will then get a letter in the mail letting them know.”

If accumulated school food charges continue to grow at that part, Haley says it’s expected  the principal of the respective school, or another administration member, would then reach out to the family for a meeting.

Under the previous policy, students were to receive an “alternate meal” after repeated failed contact with their parents, with the student no longer able to purchase breakfast or lunch once the accumulated food debt reached $75. Haley said she does not believe either policy was followed in recent years.

Regardless, the board wanted to change the policy to ensure students do not have to feel any responsibility for their inability to afford breakfast or lunch, while also removing the “alternate meal” option to avoid singling them out.

“Students shall continue to be served a standard breakfast or lunch, whether or not their account is in arrears,” the new policy reads. “Contact shall only be with the parent(s) and not through the students.”

State and national discussion about the topic has been ongoing since the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, after the Cherry Hill Public Schools Board of Education faced criticism for its handling of negative balances on student lunches.

“There’s been a lot of articles and discussion about this topic in recent months; the bottom line is that we care about the students and we want them to receive lunch,” Haley noted. “Any negative balance or account situation should be discussed with the parent, not the student.”

The board also revised on first reading a policy regarding how students within the district enter its public schools.

According to Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Diane Young, the annual cutoff date for entrance into kindergarten and other grade levels is Oct. 1. In the past, Young said some parents had requested their children enter a grade level for which they were not age appropriate. That lead to an examination to see if a student might qualify for a higher grade level than his or her age would indicate.

“In the past, we’ve had to institute a student assessment,” Young explained. “It’s really hard, at the age of 5, to make that determination and it’s a life-altering decision. So the board has agreed to allow the policy to state that students will have to be age appropriate by Oct. 1 [to enter a specific grade].”

Young added an assessment would be allowed if a student comes to the district from another state where the cutoff age may differ from that of New Jersey.

In other news:

  • During the meeting, Jennifer Palmer was recognized for 25 years of service at Kresson Elementary School.
  • With no scheduled meeting in December, the board’s next gathering is Monday, Jan. 6, for the district’s reorganization meeting at the administration building. The meeting will start at 7:30 p.m.