Boy has school lunch taken away on his birthday over $9 debt to school

The school says it will change its policies

Lily Puckett
New York
Wednesday 11 September 2019 18:46
Comments
Boy has lunch taken off him on 9th birthday over $9 debt to school

A student in Ohio had his school lunch taken away from him on his ninth birthday after his grandmother fell behind in lunch money payments, the latest incidence of a public school punishing children for not being able to pay for food.

Jefferson Sharpnack of Green, Ohio told a local news station that his elementary school, Green Primary School, took his lunch of cheesy breadsticks away from him and replaced it with a snack last week, citing his grandmother’s failure to make payments. She owed $9.

“I got my cheesy breadsticks and put in my number,” Jefferson said of the incident. “And when I was going to check out, the lunch lady didn’t say anything, took away my cheesy breadsticks and sauce, put them over there, and took out bread on cheese from the fridge and put it on my tray.”

Diane Bailey, his grandmother, said that hearing about the upsetting moment brought her to tears. She called on the school district to change its policies, which she says places the blame on children for their guardians’ actions.

“In my mind, he didn’t owe anything. I owed the money, the parents, the school district,” Ms Bailey said.

The situation arose out of a misunderstanding, she said, over Jefferson being enrolled in the school's free lunch programme. After he was sent home with a note of August 30 citing the $9 dollar debt, she called the school to straighten things out, and thought that the situation was resolved - until her grandson's lunch was taken away on his birthday.

“My other question is, if they take the food off of your tray, they have to throw it away," she said. "You would take the food off a tray and you can’t reserve it? You’re going to throw it away and not feed the child? That doesn’t make sense to me.”

The school district issued a statement saying it was “looking into this specific situation”, which Jefferson said made for his worst birthday ever.

“The lunch programme is complex due to federal requirements,” the statement read. “As it relates specifically to our policy, students receive multiple means of communication when their accounts become negative. Currently students who are $15 or more in debt are provided a lunch that includes fruit, vegetables, and either a cheese quesadilla or cheese sandwich.”

This policy, like several others that have come under fire in recent years, including a school’s rule in Rhode Island that meant students in debt would only be served sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, visibly divides children in lunchrooms between those whose guardians pay and those who do not.

Criticism of the policies call these rules harmful and shaming, and inexcusable to enact on children. Public outrage has pushed many schools, including Green Primary School, to reassess how students are treated.

“It is important to us that students have positive experiences in the lunchroom and all areas of the school,” the school’s statement concluded. “For that reason, we will continue to look into our practices and come up with solutions that work for our students and families.”

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