WOOD RIVER JCT. — Members of the Chariho School Committee engaged in a lengthy discussion at their Tuesday meeting about how to deal with the delicate problem of students whose parents have not paid their school lunch bills.
The issue, which was the subject of policy discussions last year, resurfaced during a discussion of the district’s new standards of student behavior, which have been updated for all levels as well as the Chariho Alternative Learning Academy.
One proposed change would require a student’s lunch debt to be paid before he or she could purchase tickets to any school events, including sports and prom. Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci told the committee that the lunch debt, which was about $12,000 last year, was now between $16,000 and $18,000, but he also noted that he anticipated committee resistance to the proposed policy change.
“The policy requires that all debt is paid before we will allow any tickets to be purchased,” Ricci said.
As they did last year, several members objected to the idea of punishing a student for debt that they said was a parent’s responsibility.
“I don’t think that a child should be responsible for that,” Hopkinton member Catherine Giusti said. “Oftentimes there are kids who work hard to buy their own tickets to go to events.”
Lisa Macaruso, also of Hopkinton, agreed.
“What are we asking a student to do if their parent is not paying their debt?” she asked. “Are we asking them to go with food insecurity? Are we asking students to choosebetween not eating and eating so that they are able to purchase a ticket to an event? That’s not what we’re here to do.”
Other members, like William Day of Richmond, said something had to be done.
“I feel that we shouldn’t be subsidizing some of these debts that are out there,” he said. “Taxpayers that are working hard in the district to make their child accountable and stuff like that are subsidizing parents that in a lot of cases can well afford to pay it.”
Ricci explained that the debt would result in higher lunch costs for the parents who do pay, but the committee nevertheless approved amendments striking the provision from the new policy.
In other business, the committee heard a presentation on the progress of the district’s initiative to create specialty elementary schools. Ashaway Elementary is focusing on engineering and robotics; the Charlestown school on outdoor learning; Richmond on health and wellness; and Hope Valley on performing arts.
The speciality focus is one component of an initiative by the district to compete with charter and private schools, which have attracted Chariho students.
The committee was also asked to approve a funding application to the Champlin Foundation by Chariho Principal Craig MacKenzie to build a new outdoor workout space on the high school campus. MacKenzie will ask the foundation for a donation of $99,928.
“We are seeking this support to connect our students to healthy physical activities and strategies with long-term benefits that they can take with them after graduation, such as a trusted physical fitness regimen,” MacKenzie wrote in his funding proposal. “Chariho High School Physical Education teachers take their classes outside when possible, yet there are only a few structured outdoor activities that can accommodate and engage a class of 25 students simultaneously. This space would be heavily utilized by our high school physical education teachers during school hours and also by our high school students and the community outside of the school day.”
Equipment would cost about $50,000, site prep, permit fees, and equipment installation an additional $40,000, and security cameras and network installation about $9,000.
If the grant is awarded, work on the workout space would begin next spring.