Students threatened with no caps and gowns for unpaid lunch bills
WESTPORT — No lunch money? No cap and gown.
That was essentially the message being conveyed by signs posted in the Staples High School cafeteria last week.
But after an inquiry from Westport News, the signs have since been taken down, and outgoing Principal James D’Amico clarified school lunch policy as it relates to graduation.
“We don’t withhold their caps and gowns for graduation,” he said.
The questions stemmed from a May 15 Instagram post by the Staples student newspaper, Inklings News, which pictured a sign in the cafeteria notifying seniors about the repercussions of having an unpaid lunch balance.
“Attention all seniors! Two things will happen if you have a negative lunch balance ... 1. You will not receive your graduation cap & gown! 2. You will not be allowed to purchase ANY items except for a basic lunch! Please make your life easier by paying up NOW!” the sign, posted by Chartwells dining services staff, read.
As of Monday afternoon the signs had been removed, according to D’Amico, adding he did not authorize the notice. “The dining service had put them up of their own volition.”
Staples families use mySchoolBucks.com to deposit funds into students’ individual lunch accounts, according to the 2018-19 parent handbook. If those funds run out, students can still purchase “basic lunches” (a protein, green, fruit vegetable and milk), which are added onto their negative balances to pay later, D’Amico explained.
At the end of the year, the school is required to “rectify accountabilities” with the food service company, which includes notifying students and parents typically via email of any negative lunch balances to be repaid.
While collecting the money is most pressing for seniors, “a student has never not graduated due to accountability,” D’Amico said. If there are some families who, for a variety of reasons, cannot pay, he said, the school works with them to set up a plan.
As far as future cafeteria notices go, the principal assured no signs would be put up by Chartwells staff without collaboration between himself and dining services Director Deborah VanCoughnett.
“We’ll make sure that dining services accountabilities are also mentioned in the email sent to parents prior to graduation,” D’Amico said.