The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is considering changing its elementary school meal policy after parents complained that some students were not given meals at the cafeteria.

A previous policy stated that students without money would not be given meals at the cafeteria.

The district suspended that policy last year in November and instituted a partial meal policy, in which students without money would be given a partial meal and school sites would have to contact parents to get reimbursed.

A third policy was presented to the district board of education Thursday, July 28th.

District officials are proposing a new policy because the school sites could not get parents to pay for the partial meals.

“We ended the school year with a negative balance of $7,888 because of parents who did not pay,” said Orlando Griego, director of the district Food and Nutrition Services Department. “Between May and June, we were able to recover $1,769 from parents.”

The new policy applies only to elementary schools.

Students in the middle and high schools have no meal policy, and must prepay or pay at the register for their meals.

The new elementary school meal policy states that:

n students without money who are new to the district or require district assistance would get full meals for the first three days;

n students will be allowed to owe for three full meals or a value not to exceed $8.25 each semester;

n if a student does not have money and has exceeded the three full-meal credit, a partial meal will be provided; and

n parents who prepay for meals will receive a notice when the number of meals paid for drops to five meals or a value of $13.75.

Payment notices and reminder notices will be sent to parents if a full meal credit or a partial meal was provided.

Discounts are provided if parents prepay for several meals in advance.

Griego said the new policy allows for more efficiency in giving students meals and getting payments back from parents.

“This is a policy that is important for the district to have, said board member Jose Escarce. “Parents have to take responsibility for these sorts of things.

“Our responsibility is to make sure parents are informed and notified of their child’s situation.”

When the 2004-2005 school year ended, several elementary schools had negative balances in their cafeteria funds.

John Muir Elementary School owed the most at $3,800.

Griego said about $3,000 in balances at Muir were because prepaid meal limits were reached and parents refused to pay for more meals.

Another factor at Muir was that parents refused to pay because they said they did not authorize the meal.

“A child came to school with a lunch, threw the lunch away and decided to eat a hot lunch,” Griego said. “The parent didn’t know anything about it and therefore did not want to be responsible for the meal.”

The district recently received grant money that can be used to create a Web site where parents can prepay for meals, pay for credited meals and track their child’s cafeteria expenses.

Griego said the Web site would be called My Lunch Money.

“One of the rationales for changing the policy was that the school sites were less motivated to make sure money owed was collected,” said board vice president Julia Brownley. “I want to continue the money collection piece of the new policy, but the district should also serve complete meals.”

In the proposed policy, a partial meal consists of a vegetable, fruit and nonfat milk.

“The idea came after discussions with our registered dietician on staff,” Griego said. “We are trying to give a nutritionally adequate meal.”

Board member Oscar de la Torre wondered why no protein is provided in a partial meal.

Griego said that cafeteria staff would often provide something other than a partial meal and that some schools would provide sandwiches.

Griego suggested that the partial meal consist of a cheese sandwich and milk.

Brownley suggested a sandwich, fruit and milk.

“If lunch was the same thing all the time, the child would come home and say, ‘Hey, I am tired of eating these sandwiches,'” de la Torre said. “This would put more pressure on parents to pay so the child could eat something else.”

Board member Maria Leon-Vazquez said students would eat the lunch they brought from home if they realized they would not get what other students are receiving from the cafeteria.

The new policy will come back to the board of education for further discussion and include more options for what students will eat in a partial meal.

“If we rarely give partial meals, I can agree with what the district is doing because students should not go hungry,” Brownley said.

“There is such a thing as a free lunch,” said board member Shane McLoud.