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School refuses to serve food to pupils whose meal account is more than a penny in debt
11 November 2021, 15:54 | Updated: 11 November 2021, 16:03
A school in Wales has said it will refuse to give school meals to any pupil who has a payment debt of more than a penny.
The secondary school, Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle in Penygroes, Gwynedd, told parents it is taking action after some pupils' meal accounts ran up collective debts of more than £1,800.
Strategic headteacher Neil Foden said the school cook has now been instructed to refuse to give food to any child whose account hasn't cleared by the end of next week.
It has sparked a backlash online and among parents of pupils at the school, with one saying he is "fuming".
But in a statement provided to LBC, Mr Foden claimed many parents in debt had not acted on reminder texts and letters, and that any shortfall "could mean fewer books and resources for all pupils because of debts run up by a few".
He said the £1,800 debt had been run up by 70 pupils' parents, with nine owing more than £50 and three owing more than £100.
In his initial letter to parents, Mr Foden said: "I was very surprised to learn at the end of the last half term that there was an unexpected deficit in our school meals budget. Closer inspection revealed that this was because a handful of pupils had run up debts totalling more than £1,800."
He said it means all debts over £10 will be transferred and dealt with by the local council, and that parents will have to sort any debt over 1p by Friday next week.
The letter went on: "The cook has been instructed not to give food to any child from 22 November if the debt has not been cleared or, in the future, to children whose accounts do not have enough money to pay for lunch.
"I am sorry that we have had to take these steps but the scale of the default means that something clearly has to be done."
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Darren Owen, a parent of two pupils at the school who had a 36p debt, told the BBC he was "absolutely fuming" at the letter.
"I understand that people should pay their bills but, at the same time, people are struggling."
Gwynedd Council said it does not support refusing meals to pupils, and that it will "discuss this matter directly with the school".
In his statement issued following the backlash, Mr Foden said school meals are provided by the council and "any losses or deficits have to be made up from the school's budget".
"Parents whose accounts were in debt were texted on a weekly basis and ultimately letters sent but, in most cases, there was no response and in several the debts increased."
He claimed the approach of refusing to serve meals to pupils whose accounts are in debt "reflects the approach we agreed" with the council and that other schools in the area "operate a similar policy".
The statement finished: "Pupils from the most financially disadvantaged families are eligible for free school meals and they are automatically credited with a daily allowance. Any parent in genuine financial difficulty should write to their child's head of year in order that we may see how best to assist.
"We understand that many families have experienced financial difficulty during the pandemic and we are not unsympathetic. However, any shortfall in the budget for school meals will have to be made up by the school which could mean fewer books and resources for all pupils because of debts run up by a few."