Clearing up misinformation about updated policy

Clearing up misinformation about updated student debt policy
Posted on 12/03/2019

Good evening! Hope you and your family had a relaxing long weekend together. Thanksgiving and the Holiday Season is a very special time of year for reflection on our blessings of family, friends, community, and nation. Being grateful for what we have and what we share, as we role model as parents, friends, and leaders, is critically important in developing our youngest generation. With my two children serving in the Army on opposite sides of the country - Georgia and Washington state, getting us all together as a family is difficult at any time of year, let alone the holidays. Last weekend, we went South to my daughter’s for quality family time together!

At the November 14th Board Meeting, the Board listened to a presentation from the Neidig Elementary leadership team called “Data Driven Instruction.” The Neidig teacher team included Krissy Wainwright, Stacey DiCicco, Sarah Godshall, Cristin Pizzi, and JoAnn Klee, along with principal Scott Godshalk. I recommend you take the time to view the presentation starting at the 12:40 minute mark on the video. This data presentation was the second in our year-long series of sharing not only our results, but also how all of our skilled professionals use data to meet the needs of their students.

Later that night, the Board approved Policy 617 - Student Financial Obligations. Policy 617 is the first time the Board officially codified student financial obligations other than in Policy 217 - Graduation Requirements. For generations of students passing through Quakertown schools, it was implicitly understood by parents that their children were obligated to pay for damaged or lost library and textbooks, extracurricular and athletic uniforms, and any other damaged school property due to negligence, such as a damaged Chromebook. When these obligations weren’t paid, high school students were prevented from purchasing prom tickets or walking in graduation ceremonies. Until the implementation of PA Act 55 of 2017 by the Pennsylvania General Assembly, otherwise known as the “anti-lunch shaming law,” student debt was relatively insignificant, non-recurring by the same students, and parents paid their children’s financial obligations to the district.

Act 55 of 2017 changed the whole conversation about student debt and parent financial obligations to the district. At no time did it compromise or change our compassion and support for our students in need. After only the second year of the law, student foodservice debt grew from no more than $1,700 dollars annually, to more than $27,000 last year after Act 55 went into effect. It is projected to be more than $40,000 this year. There have not been any significant changes in the level of community needs over that time period - the only change was this legislation that restricted the district’s ability to manage lunch debt by notifying students or providing an alternate meal. Presented with the problem, the Board decided to create Policy 617 to address the debt issue and codify all information about unpaid obligations in one place. There has been a lot of misinformation about the details of this policy out in the community, so I encourage you to read this Fact Sheet that was prepared to provide accurate information.

Chart explaining the growing impact of the district's lunch following the passage of Act 55 of 2017.

The Policy Committee spent most of its meeting last week reviewing the draft Administrative Regulation for Policy 617, and answering questions from the public. Some key points discussed at the meeting:

  • If parents can not afford to pay for their child(ren)’s lunch, assistance is provided for enrollment in the free/reduced federal food program.
  • At no time is a child denied food - ever!
  • There will be no practical impact at the elementary or middle level in terms of student consequences, and for debt of $100 or less, principals have discretion.
  • No consequence will ever involve access to a curricular experience, trip, or activity.
  • Parents will have ample time (60 days) to pay the debt, or where there is a hardship, to behave responsibly in talking with the business office about a payment plan prior to any student consequences being considered.
  • Restrictions at the high school level on purchasing prom tickets or walking in the graduation ceremony are not new.

Most importantly, the Administrative Regulation affirms the board’s intent that the policy be implemented with understanding, compassion, and sensitivity to each student’s personal situation and/or family hardship. We are blessed with teachers, support staff, administrators, and School Board members who choose to serve children and our community. Preparing students to become responsible citizens and for life after graduation is fundamental to our purpose. I invite you to read the entire AR. Community members who attended the Policy Committee meeting and heard the discussion appeared to be satisfied with the intent and execution of this policy.

I must also note that a change to Policy 808 to allow community donations for meal debt has been recommended for first reading on Thursday night, and several community members in attendance at the Policy Committee meeting reported on fundraising efforts to help retire debt for families in need.

This Thursday night, December 5th, the School Board conducts its annual Reorganization Meeting at 7 pm. After it says farewell to departing Board members Steaven Klein and Robert Diliberto, and welcomes new Board members Chris Spear and Brian Reimers, it will elect a new Board President and Vice President and identify new Board committee chairs. A special presentation will be provided by Dr. Gilliam Beauchamp, of Lehigh Valley Health Network on “The Opioid Crisis.” A video of Dr. Beauchamp’s presentation will be available on Friday for viewing.

Happy Holidays to all!

Bill Harner

[email protected]

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