Metro Atlanta school district to give cheese sandwiches to students with unpaid lunch balances

City of Decatur Schools is making a major change in the way they handle unpaid balances on school lunches.

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District leaders said that next month, they will offer cheese sandwiches to any student who has gotten behind.

Channel 2′s Audrey Washington was in Decatur Tuesday, where school officials said the new procedure will help bring down their districtwide unpaid lunch fee balance of nearly $90,000.

In a statement, the district explained the change and called the cheese sandwich an “alternative meal.”

“The program offering meal grants and waivers ended in 2022, and public school districts resumed the regular practice of charging for meals. However, City Schools of Decatur permitted students to continue to receive regular-priced meals at no cost, even if they had a balance on their account. The unpaid lunch fees have resulted in a districtwide balance of $88,000.00, prompting a change in the meal payment procedure,” the district wrote.”

Jasmine Crowe-Houston is a mother and runs Goodr, a hunger solution organization that services Decatur and other parts of metro Atlanta. She said the move would have a bad effect on kids.

“It stigmatizes these students immediately,” Crowe-Houston said. “And think about the shame that child is facing, and they’re hungry.”

Washington talked to school officials off camera Tuesday, who said that during the pandemic, the federal government provided funds for every public school student to receive meals for free.

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According to City of Decatur Schools, the meal payment breaks down, in part, like this: Middle and high school students will have a max of three charged meals equivalent to $10.50 per student for the year. Elementary school students will have a max of three charged meals equivalent to $9.75 per student for the year.

Once the limits are reached, students will receive the alternative cheese sandwich and milk lunch until the balance is paid off.

Crowe-Houston said she doesn’t agree with the plan.

“No child deserves that,” she said. “They’re literally being punished because maybe their parent lives in poverty.”

The district spokesperson told Washington that students eligible for free or reduced lunch will not receive alternative meals.

Crowe-Houston said she’s working on a plan to pay off the district’s balance. Click here to donate to the GoFundMe page.