DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — A revived lunch policy in Davidson County Schools has ignited controversy.

DCS Director of School Nutrition S. Daved Roberts said in an email, obtained by FOX8, to cafeteria managers that “high schoolers will no longer be allowed to charge in the cafeteria.” The change goes into effect on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

What that means is that unless students have money in their account or money on hand to pay for the cost of their lunch, the cashier will take their plate away and the student will not be served a meal.

If the student is unable to return to the cash register with money, their meal will be thrown away and wasted, according to the email.

Davidson County Schools said the lunch charge policy has been in place since 2017, and the email was sent to let cafeteria managers know that the policy must be enforced.

DCS released the following statement, which has not been edited by FOX8, on the matter:

In Davidson County Schools we take pride in our school nutrition service and make it a priority to feed all children. Students who cannot afford school meals have the opportunity to apply for free and reduced lunch benefits. THEY CAN EAT BREAKFAST AND LUNCH AT SCHOOL. Theoretically, those who cannot afford it, have avenues to eat two meals daily at no cost to their families. 

Also included in the school district’s statement was the following list of services available to families in need of assistance:

  • Angel Accounts where citizens, local churches, non-profit organizations, and businesses donate money to our schools to cover meal charges.
  • Backpack programs are available in most of our schools for weekend meals.
  • Snacks are donated so that students are able to have supplemental food during the school day.
  • The Federal government provided meals at no cost for all students beginning in March 2020. Beginning with the 2022-2023 school year and the end of the state of emergency, this federal relief ended.
  • DCS mailed free and reduced lunch forms to every household in July 2022. Some families were directly certified for free/reduced meals based on other benefits received.
  • Before the first day of school in DCS, a school message was delivered to all families that meals were no longer provided at no cost.  Families were encouraged to complete the free/reduced lunch application if they were not able to pay.  Those who are able to pay were encouraged to create an account on lunchprepay.com.
  • We have a board policy that was adopted in June of 2011 that prevents high school students from charging meals in the cafeteria. High school students were given a grace period of the first nine weeks allowing them to charge meals as they became accustomed to payment procedures mandated prior to the benefits provided due to the pandemic.
  • We are always willing to work with families and students in a variety of ways to make sure our students are fed. 

This isn’t the first policy on school fees that has sparked questions within the Davidson County community.

DCS also has a policy in place that forbids students from taking part in extracurricular activities while they have outstanding instructional fees.

Earlier in October, Holly Green started a community fund after getting an email from her children’s school that stated only children with no school fees could attend a school dance.

“I don’t think a child should ever, ever, ever, have to bear the financial burden that their parents are responsible for,” said Green.

Davidson County Schools Superintendent Emily Lipe said the practice has been implemented for years.

“Davidson County Schools has a procedure in place and has for many years that students must pay all instructional fees prior to participating in extracurricular events or purchasing a parking pass on the high school level. We encourage parents to complete the fee waiver form and submit the form to their child’s principal if a hardship exists.”

Davidson County Superintendent Emily Lipe

School instructional fees for students consist of overdue lunch payments, technology fees, senior fees, student-basic fees, etc. If students don’t have a zero balance, they potentially could miss out on school dances, proms, driving to school or even graduation.

For families that need help with their student fees, Lipe said the district is always there to help parents when they ask. She said parents can request a fee waiver from the principal and fill out the paperwork to see if the family qualifies.