SHAWNEE, Kan. -- It's hard for kids to learn when they're hungry.
Shawnee Mission School District leaders have approved a new policy that will provide meals for students who don't have lunch money, but not everyone is on board with the new plan.
At Monday`s board meeting, the Shawnee Mission School District voted unanimously to approve plans to provide a multi-item lunch -- instead of a grilled cheese sandwich and milk, which is the provision the district used for students with a negative balance in their lunch accounts.
And in many cases, that modest meal led to bullying by students who had the full meal.
"We don't know the circumstances, so why put the child in that situation?" said Nancy Coughenour, food services director for Shawnee Mission.
On Monday night, Coughenour told the district's school board there was roughly $5,800 in unpaid lunch debts last school year.
"Knowing the kids have no impact on whether they have lunch money or not -- it's really the parent -- we're putting a child in a situation they have no control over," she said.
When the new plan begins Nov. 1, parents will still be required to pay at the end of the year, but students won't be denied their meals.
Superintendent Mike Fulton has heard from critics who say this will be more expensive, and it might be easily abused.
"We will be able to provide, for you, monthly reports of how we're doing," Fulton said. "If we start to see a negative physical impact, you'll know long before it becomes any kind of a major issue."
Coughenhour said district leaders believe this will also have a reciprocal effect in the classroom, and students who are fed well will learn more effectively.