COLUMBUS — Members of the Columbus Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to approve a policy aimed at student meal debts and letting parents know about a fee waiver process at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

The CPS board voted 6-0 to OK the policy, a reaction to the U.S. Department of Agriculture encouraging school districts to work closely with students and families to address unpaid lunch bills.

CPS Superintendent Troy Loeffelholz said the policy includes a fee waiver process for families to apply for if they can’t afford lunch prices.

“(The policy) outlines the way to fill out the fee waiver paperwork,” he said.

Free and reduced-price meals funded by the Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program, according to an Associated Press report, shield the nation's poorest children from so-called lunch shaming. Kids can eat for free if a family of four earns less than about $32,000 a year or at a discount if earnings are under $45,000.

The purpose of the policy, according to CPS, is to establish limitations on the number of breakfasts or lunches a student may receive when their account balance is not sufficient to cover those costs, provide for alternate meals to be served to students when account balances reach certain limits and protect the district from unpaid financial obligations.

In the event a student’s account balance reaches minus $15, the student will be offered an alternate meal that meets reimbursable requirements of the USDA school nutrition program.

The district, Loeffelholz said, will provide the forms for a student’s parent or guardian to apply for free or reduced-price meals. The benefit can be applied for anytime during the school year, he said.

The policy says that to the extent possible, school actions related to unpaid balances will be handled as confidentially as possible. Communications will be provided by a district food service staff member or by automated phone calls.

The superintendent said students will not be used as couriers of account information.

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