PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - The Paragould School District hopes more children will see the benefits of free and reduced lunches now that they have implemented an online application process.
The district is the first in the state to get approval to offer the EZMealApp.
"About two or three years now we've talked with the state trying to get this approved," Vernon DuBar told Region 8 News.
DuBar serves as the Director of Technology for the Paragould School District. DuBar said initially, the state had security and audit concerns.
"Every question the state would send, we'd come back with an answer," DuBar said. "They finally sent us a letter saying we're approved. So that opens it up for the entire state of Arkansas now that other school districts can do this."
The EZMealApp allows parents and guardians to apply for free and reduced lunches online. DuBar said they expect this to make a huge difference in the lives of some of their students.
"We know that there are people that really need this. They really need the free and reduced lunches but they haven't applied," DuBar said. "If they haven't applied, they accrue charges just like anybody else."
DuBar said sometimes applications don't get turned in because children lose the paper form. However, he stated the reason forms don't get turned in often boils down to embarrassment from either the children or the parent.
"This is a problem all over the state. Every school district faces the same problems that we do as far as the paper application process," DuBar said. "It's the students that really do suffer because they're not getting those lunches. We don't turn anyone away but those fees are racking up and that's embarrassing to them and their families."
DuBar said switching to online free and reduced lunch applications takes away a lot of the concern parents may have.
"It's discreet, it's secure, it's just private," DuBar said. "No one has to know what you're doing, and this information doesn't go to your local school building where your secretary or even the principal can see it. It goes straight to our child nutrition department. There's two people in that department that approve applications. They're the only ones who have access or are authorized to get in there."
DuBar said that while they will still have paper applications available too, the online applications will hopefully cut down on unpaid lunch fees at the end of the school year.
"Last year alone, I know it was over $20,000 in unpaid lunch fees that were accrued that the district had to put back in there," DuBar said.
According to the Paragould School District, in the 2014-2015 school year, more than 67% of students used the free and reduced meal plan.
DuBar added that if more children apply, it might equal more federal funding for the school district.
For more information on the EZMealApp, contact Vernon DuBar at (870) 239-2105. You can also watch this informational video on how to apply.
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