HIGHLANDS RANCH - When Cameron Clarke goes through the lunch line at Mountain Ridge Middle School, he knows exactly how much money he has in his account because he doesn't want to be one of those kids.
"Once the lunch people tell them they don't have it, then they get kind of embarrassed because of all the people saying they don't have enough money," Cameron said.
The eighth grader knows, because he's been there.
"That's when I started checking it," Cameron said.
He goes online about once-a-week to double check his lunch account.
"It's just easier that way to know what you have instead of go up there and get all this food and have them tell you, you do not have enough money for it," Cameron said. "It's just easier to know if you have enough money or not."
What Cameron does, is exactly what Brent Craig wants every student to do. Craig is the Director of Nutrition Services for Douglas County Schools. He says parents have complained to him about the current district policy of taking lunches away from middle and high school students if they're accounts are depleted.
"When you take a tray away from a kid, that's just bad," Craig said. "That's not good customer service and we're trying to affect it so we don't do that. We're also trying to teach kids to be responsible adults."
For financial reasons, Craig says the district cannot just give food away in the cafeteria. But, he says it is time for the district to re-evaluate its policies regarding lunch accounts.
"Effective communication, I think, is probably the biggest thing that we could work on," Craig said. "To better help the parents understand when their balances are low."
Craig wants more parents to take advantage of the district's online payment system and the warnings it can send when an account approaches zero. He says the district may also change the software to include text message reminders.
"We're finding out that sometimes parents don't look at emails everyday and three days could mean a lot to a student whether a student eats or not," Craig said.
Craig has also sent a message home to parents asking for feedback on what other changes the district can make to minimize the instances when a student's lunch has to be denied.
"When you could go to your customer and get their feedback, they can make better policy," Craig said.
Over the past few weeks, attention has been focused on schools around the country for taking lunches away from kids who don't have the funds. In Douglas County, the policy does allow for elementary school students to eat even when their accounts are empty. At middle schools around Douglas County, students can go to the front office and get a "basic" lunch for the day.
Craig says so far, he has heard positive feedback from parents about the idea of making changes.
"We've had parents step and say I'd like to give money to those kids so that that doesn't happen," Craig said. "We appreciate that very much."
Cameron says the simpler solution for kids is just pay attention to their accounts like he does every week.
"It helps the students take more responsibility," Cameron said.
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