Lawmaker questions Monticello schools lunch debt policy

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MONTICELLO, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Students who are out of money in their school lunch account have certain protections under a new state law. The effort was to prevent schools from shaming kids for a negative balance. But a viewer brought Monticello school district's strategy to the attention of I9, wanting our investigative unit to look into if the district is following the law.

In short, it's unclear if Monticello School's practice violates Iowa law but the fact that they sent it out has at least one lawmaker calling for the district to amend it.

There is a new newsletter out from the Monticello Community School District. And if you read past Superintendent Brian Jeager's message to families, an announcement for homecoming, and a thank you note to the athletic booster club, all the way at the bottom of page four there is a brief message from the food service department.

It says that students who have a negative lunch account balance of $20 dollars or more will be denied what is on the menu in the cafeteria and will instead receive a "brown bag lunch," complete with a cheese sandwich, carrots, and white milk.

"Just offering an alternative lunch is going to cause shame among these kids," said Iowa house democratic representative Art Staed.

Publicly identifying students for a negative lunch balance is illegal in the state of Iowa. It is a rule Iowa House Representative Art Staed knows well as he worked on the bill which Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law back in April. I9 brought the newsletter to the attention of Staed who says he in turn reached out with his concerns directly to Superintendent Jeager. It is Staed's opinion that Monticello schools are following the "minimum" of what the law requires.

Jeager declined TV9's request for an interview to explain the district's policy but in a written statement defended the move by pointing out that, "The brown bag lunches are available for sale to all students so these lunches are not exclusive to those students in lunch debt." But Staed questions just how many kids without debt would ever opt for the cheese sandwich, carrots and milk.

"That isn't going to happen. Those students aren't going to want that," said Staed.

I9 checked with other school districts to see what they do with students that have a negative lunch balance. In Waterloo schools for example all students, regardless of what's in their account, "are served the same meals."