UPDATE: Hamilton County school board members changed its policy and will now let students charge up to $40.00 to their account when they don't have lunch money.

Rhonda Thurman says this was brought to the board’s attention after students were having their lunches taken away at the end of the cafeteria line.

Thurman says she wants to help keep an eye on the accounts to help the families.

"I hope we don't wait until it gets to $40 and that we start attacking it when it gets to the $15, $20, $25 range,” said Thurman. “You know talk to the families and see if there's a problem."

Anytime students have a charge on their accounts, a parent is notified so that they can add more money to the account.


ORIGINAL STORY: The Hamilton County School Board is looking to change a school lunch policy to allow high school students to charge up to $40 to their account. Currently, only students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade can charge to lunch to their account. 

In high schools across Hamilton County, if a student forgets their lunch money or can't afford it, they're going without food. 

"And we have had instances where children get to the end of the lunch line with a tray full of food and they get there and it's taken away from them," said District One School Board Member Rhonda Thurman. "That's humiliating we should never do that."

"At some point, they were turning down kids for lunches, so that made its way to the board and we're changing the policy now so that students can charge up to $40," said District Eight School Board Member Tucker McClendon. 

McClendon said this could potentially add to the Hamilton County Schools unpaid lunch debt. As of September 19, 2019, the school lunch debt is $12,417 in K-8, according to a district representative. McClendon said by changing the policy it would potentially add to that debt. 

"It's about 12 to $15,000 that we're potentially losing," said McClendon.

Unpaid lunch debt is either paid off by the families, or it comes out of the Hamilton County Schools General Fund. 

But both McClendon and Thurman said it's critical for high schoolers to eat school lunch as well, even if they forgot their lunch money. Thurman said it could also be an indicator of a larger issue. 

"Maybe there is something else going on that we need to know about, maybe it's something that doesn't allow the students to qualify for free and reduced lunch, maybe their parents are just having a hard time," said Thurman. 

They said hopefully by instituting a $40 charge policy, they can help students that they didn't know were struggling. 

"And I hope we don't wait until it gets to $40 and that we start attacking it when it gets to the $15, $20, $25 range. You know talk to the families and see if there's a problem," said Thurman. 

If a student needs to charge a meal to their account, parents get a phone call notifying them. 

McClendon and Thurman said that a great way for local businesses or people to participate in Hamilton County Schools is to donate to the school lunch program, to help pay off a student's lunch debt.