Parents taken to a collection agency over unpaid school lunches at Lower Dauphin School District

Lower Dauphin School District has collected approximately 10% of the money it has been owed by parents who haven't paid school lunches after taking the parents to a collection agency.

The District said it passed the policy in December after lunch debts amounted to nearly $25,000.

"We have only recently started the collections process.  Some of the names have yet to receive any notification as there have been address changes and certified mailings that have not been accepted," said Paul Adamschick, treasurer for the district's collection agency G.H. Harris Asssociated, Inc.
Parents are given the option to mail the payment or pay by credit or debit card. If they are unable to pay on time, the collection agency told them to contact their office to arrange for additional times or payments. The district said the outstanding debt now stands near $15,000.
"25,000 dollars, even 15,000 dollars. You know, that's textbooks. That's supplies. You know, that money is coming away from our educational programs," said Jim Hazen, Community Relations Coordinator for Lower Dauphin School District.
The district said 25.4% of students in K-12 qualify to receive free or reduced-cost lunches. The district is home to nearly 3700 students.
The PA Department of Education released this statement:

School districts are encouraged to explore available state and federal resources, like school breakfast grants and free and reduced-lunch programs, to provide food options for its students. Children need quality nutrition to succeed in school and providing an environment that promotes healthy nutrition, no matter a child’s family’s economic situation, should be the priority.

In May, Governor Tom Wolf announced that his School Breakfast Initiative was awarding 151 schools with grants up to $5,000 to help more children start their day with a healthy meal. The $592,000 investment marks the second year of grants that make school breakfast available to all students and expand food options for children.

Schools should exhaust all efforts to determine if a child qualifies for free/reduced meals as soon as they see a debt accumulating. By using these resources, school districts can help their students receive nutritious meals while also containing some of their food program costs.

Districts are also encouraged to focus efforts on recovering lunch balances to appropriate methods that don’t intimidate and frighten students or parents, with the use of collection agencies as a last resort, especially considering these families may be facing economic realities that make these expenses, among others, difficult to manage.

Eric Levis, Press Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Education

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