Dozens of Steamboat Springs students have been denied hot lunches since the new semester began Monday because of unpaid balances on their school lunch accounts.
Max Huppert, the district's director of nutritional services, said the news should not have come as a surprise to parents. He said the district has spent weeks sending out notifications reminding parents to pay off the balances.
About 25 elementary students and an unknown number of Steamboat Springs Middle School students were informed Monday that they no longer would be able to accrue debts on the district's automated payment system. Students $6 or more in debt on their lunch accounts - the cost of two lunches - were unable to get the meal of their choice, beginning on the first day back from break.
"All the elementary kids, everybody, should have known. I don't understand how they couldn't have known, because we saturated them with notices," Huppert said.
The school district had about $10,000 in unpaid lunch fees before Monday, Huppert said, and since that time, about half of that amount has been paid.
Students with overdue accounts at the elementary schools instead were offered peanuts and sunflower seeds Monday, along with other snack food. Beginning Tuesday, elementary students unable to purchase lunch were given peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Students at the middle school and high school were not given any free food options if their accounts were overdrawn, Huppert said.
High school students have been unable to charge this year, Huppert said, and there was no change in operations there, because most students pay in cash.
Parent Lorraine Morrison was upset by the district's refusal to serve hot lunches to elementary school students.
Morrison said she understands that the school must collect payments, but she does not want students to suffer because of their parents' actions.
"I guess maybe I just have a problem with little kids getting sunflower seeds for lunch when their parents haven't paid. The thing is, parents forget, parents are sick or out of town," Morrison said.
Huppert said that before Monday, there were several accounts running balances of $100 or more. Secretaries at the schools have been calling parents to remind them about overdue accounts.
JoAnne Hilton-Gabeler, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said there is no district administrative policy governing how lunch fees are handled.
Huppert said all students had at least some food to eat.
"Nobody went hungry. They just weren't able to come through the line and get the food they normally would," he said.
Students on the free lunch program were unaffected by the change. Students who qualify for reduced lunch fees - 40 cents instead of $3 per meal - are allowed to accrue $1.20 of debt before their account is cut off, Huppert said.
To check the balance of a student account, parents can visit the district's Web site at www.steamboatschoolfood.com and click on the "MyNutriKids" link to see available funds and add money. Parents without Internet access can call the individual schools to determine available balances.
On Wednesday, there were only a few students who were denied a hot lunch, Huppert said.