School board OKs $15 charge limit for school meals, hears report from SEARCH students

2018-19 Swedish Edmonds Project SEARCH students (from the left) Andrew Hong, Matthew Mason, Tony Peckenpaugh-Taie, David Buckingham, Bobby Anderson, Cary Bucsit and Parker Gougeon.

In an effort to reduce significant meal debt across the district, the Edmonds School District Board of Directors approved a proposal from district staff at its June 25 business meeting to implement a $15 charge limit for students’ meal accounts for all schools in the district.

At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, the district implemented a $15 charge limit to high school students. Now, the district is considering making it a district-wide policy. Director of Food and Nutrition Services Megan de Vries said the limit is intended to keep the negative student meal account balances manageable for families so they are not hit with large debt.

“Moving forward meal debt will stay on student accounts until it is paid,” she said. “If a family is having a financial hardship we do not want the students to go without a meal.”

The charge limit is in response to debt the district is often burdened with when students graduate without paying their meal balances. Currently, the district is expecting to write off more than $53,000 in meal debt, which is down from $91,000 in the 2018-19 school year. Some balances have reached up to $400, de Vries said.

According to de Vries, the decrease this school year can be attributed to increased communication with families regarding their student’s meal debt and the charge limit implemented at high schools.

When students reach their charge limit, they are given a courtesy meal to serve as a temporary solution while district staff work with families to pay off meal debt. The courtesy lunches are self-selected choices that offer cereal and fruit for breakfast and string cheese, yogurt, sunflower seeds, a granola bar, crackers, milk and fruit and/or veggies for lunch.

“Protein pack lunches are available to all students as a daily entree option,” de Vries said. “The intent is to keep the negative balances manageable for families and the district while continuing to feed the students.”

During the discussion, Board President Diana White said she was concerned $15 would not be a high enough limit for students from low-income families and suggested a $20 limit to ensure students were able to eat.

“The higher it (the charge limit) is, the higher the debt we’re going to be sitting on,” de Vries replied. 

Also, de Vries said the $15 limit could go a long way for high school students who qualify for free-and-reduced meals. For elementary school students, the $15 limit will go farther, because their meals cost less, she added.

In other business at the Tuesday meeting, seven students who were part of the 2019-20 Swedish Edmonds Project SEARCH came before the council to share what they learned during their internships with the hospital. For most, it was a lesson in independence, community service and essential workforce skills.

“We learned a lot of new skills,” said Tony Peckenpaugh-Taie. “Like how to operate and work hours at the hospital and how to achieve our goals that we set for ourselves for the future.”

The Project SEARCH began in 2016 as a collaborative effort between the district, Swedish Edmonds and other community partners to provide skills to students with learning disabilities so they can gain employment after graduation. Through the SEARCH Project, students work a minimum of 16 hours a week in different areas of the hospital including maintenance, security, patient registration, the hospital gift shop and the onsite Starbucks.

Students also received daily classroom instruction in areas like health and wellness, budgeting, technology, how to get and keep a job, self-advocacy, social and team-building skills, communication and cleanliness.

Also, at the Tuesday meeting, the board of directors unanimously approved — minus Board Director Carin Chase, who was absent — to send 10 Lynnwood High School students to South Korea in September.

During the trip, students will stay with host families in Lynnwood’s sister city, Damyang. The students will also visit the country’s capital, Seoul. Accompanying the students on the trip will be the school’s principal Mike Piper and another chaperon.

In 2016, Lynnwood established sister-city relations with Damyang. In 2018, 14 exchange students came from South Korea to visit Lynnwood. Damyang is called “The City of Bamboo,” because its surroundings include 25 percent of the nation’s bamboo forest.

–Story and photo by Cody Sexton

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