Patty Baresse of Nutrition, Inc., the lunch contractor for the Jim Thorpe Area School District, gave a report to the board at its meeting on Monday regarding the federal government's new rules on providing drink substitutes to children during lunch periods.

In the past, the school has made juice or water available to children who had a doctor's note indicating that they are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy. That will change for some students.

Going forward, those students who have a disability defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act will continue to get juice or water as a substitute for milk. However, those students who don't have a defined disability but still don't want milk will be subject to the board's decision on how it will provide a substitute. Lactose intolerance is a medical condition, but it's not necessarily defined as a disability.

Because there are now nutritionally equivalent substitutes available in the marketplace, the United States Department of Agriculture has determined that school districts will have the choice of substituting one of these - which includes lactose-free milk or soy substitutes - or the district could opt not to provide a substitute at all, forcing those children without a defined disability but who don't want milk to bring a drink from home or pay for juice or water in addition to their school lunch.

Baresse couldn't tell the board exactly how many students would be affected by the change nor how much it was likely to cost the school, but said the additional expense would not be significant. She guessed that it would affect fewer than 10 students per district building.

She told the board that there were pros and cons to either choice.

"If you do allow the students to have a substitute, you do open up a door that has never been open before," she said. "Parents could now start writing notes saying that they wanted their children to have lactose free milk or soy milk. Not that I think you're going to get bombarded by many parents looking for that. But also if you have any students with religious or ethical beliefs that prevent them from drinking cow's milk, you open up that door as well."

The district will have to make a decision on how it wants to handle the issue going forward, though Baresse said the government had not yet set a deadline for action. The district has been asked to notify the government when it decides how it wants to handle the issue.

Baresse said that the majority of school districts that her company serves that have made a decision on the issue are opting to provide a substitute for students that request it, despite the higher cost.