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Family unhappy after student doesn't get lunch

School district says snacks available; New policy means stricter rules on lunch debt

No lunch money means no lunch?

POCATELLO, Idaho - Some parents in Pocatello got a surprise the first day of school when their kids came home and told them they couldn't get lunch. It's part of a new school district policy to only allow students to eat when their account isn't overdrawn by more than $11.

The change comes after the school district had to eat over $17,000 in student meals not paid for. The district said it's similar to a pre-paid debit card: once the money is gone, you can't make any more purchases. But they have given the $11 exception.

While School District 25 said no student went without the first two days of school, Ryan Simpson said his grumbling stomach told a much different story.

"They gave me this little plastic thing, made me go to the office and they gave me a paper," Simpson said. "They said 'You can't eat until you fill this out.' So I brought it home and filled it out."

But when he got home Monday and told his mother, Annette Linford he went without, she was not very happy. She said her first thought was about his diabetic medication. Ryan is a type 2 diabetic, and needs to take his medication with food.

Both mother and son agree he's not the best at giving her any updates from school, but Linford said this hasn't been a problem. She said this only became an issue when Ryan got into high school, when she started having to fill out the free and reduced lunch form every year.

"We've been on free lunch for five years since his dad passed away," she said. "So, it's never been an issue. They usually give you a week after school starts so you can get the paper and fill it out."

She says she expects to be able to send her son off to school where he will be fed, and the school district agrees, but says this shouldn't have happened.

"What we're trying to do is identify the kids before the lunch hour begins," said Shelley Allen, spokesperson for the district. "We get them in the office and let them call mom and dad."

Allen said despite what the family said, there were no reports of any kids going without. She said if kids are over that $11 limit and have no way to change it, the district has taken steps to make sure kids are getting the nutrition they need, even if it's not a full meal.

"We give them a snack and we do it very discreetly," Allen said. "We don't want anybody to be embarrassed by this. But we do have to draw the line."

But Simpson said he wasn't told about snacks. Both he and his mother said until the paperwork is filed to get back on the free and reduced program, she is going to have to find a way on an already tight budget to feed her son lunch. She said it is very stressful, considering he doesn't have any way to transport food that needs to be cold, which is usually what's best for him.

Both the district and the family agrees communication is very important, between student and parent and school and parent.

While the school district says they want to make sure no students fall through the cracks and everyone gets something to eat, the snacks are mainly for adjusting to the new policy, and are really only for the first month of school.

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