“No Soup For You!” The Struggle Over School Meals [The Atlantic]
Written on 13 February 2016, 08:45am under As Seen In
In December, just days before Christmas, an Idaho cafeteria worker was fired for giving a free hot lunch to a 12-year-old student who was hungry but didn’t have money to pay for her school meal. After the story went viral, the lunch lady was rehired. This story—along with several cases of schools tossing kids’ lunches for nonpayment—prompted me to take a closer look at how districts handle students who don’t have the money to pay for school breakfast and lunch.
A debate on school nutrition—trading pizza, fries, and cookies for whole grains, fruits and vegetables—has raged for years, while a parallel debate has gone somewhat unnoticed and unaddressed: What should be the consequence for children with delinquent school-meal accounts? While the most pressing issue in some school cafeterias is students tossing healthier school lunches in the trash, in others it is school employees dumping children’s lunches in the trash for nonpayment. And the result is hungry children, stunned parents, and increasing questions about how school districts handle overdue payments.
The notion of taking children’s lunches away and throwing them in the trash—in some cases, in front of the child and their peers—angers parents and exposes school officials to scorn. But behind the outrage lurks a larger issue. Survey data from the advocacy group School Nutrition Association shows that overdrawn lunch accounts create real financial challenges for school districts, forced to weigh mounting costs against unsatisfied students and families.
(Photo: Berkeley Unified School District)
Written by Melinda (Published articles: 54)
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