This is the message about 25 students in Attleboro, Massachusetts, got when they showed up for lunch at their middle school. Those students who did not have enough money on their pre-paid cards were forced to throw out their food and leave the lunch room on empty stomachs.
One parent, Jo-An Blanchard, told NBC 10 that her son was $1 short and was forced to toss out the food.
But, this bizarre story doesn’t stop there. Apparently, the school is blaming the company that runs the school cafeteria, Whitson’s Culinary Group, for the policy.
“I apologize to all parents on behalf of Whitson’s. This sort of thing should never happen at any school especially at Attleboro Public Schools,” Coelho Principal Andrew Boles said Wednesday.
Boles said cafeteria workers are contracted through Whitson’s and they made the decision to deny kids food.
“I told him this is bullying, neglect, child abuse. You can’t do that to children,” Blanchard said.
Boles said none of the teachers knew about the incident until well after the fact.
Usually if parents owe money they are given a three day “grace period” and a written warning saying they have a negative balance.
Federal subsidies also require that schools at least feed students a grilled cheese sandwich if they aren’t on free or reduced lunches but still cannot pay. This option was seen as controversial when introduced back in 2011.
Apparently, even the superintendent had no idea this type of cruelty took place.
Superintendent Pia Durkin said school officials were not informed of the policy and that the principal did not find out until late Tuesday afternoon.
Durkin said today that school administrators have since ordered cafeteria workers not to refuse any children lunch and have scheduled a meeting with Whitson’s officials.
Durkin also said she placed the on-site director employed by Whitson’s on administrative leave.
“There is no way any child in my school district will ever go hungry,” Durkin said. “Children need to eat.”
The news outlet who interviewed one parent said her son never received this warning. CNN was able to reach out to the food vendor:
Whitson’s apologized in a statement and said it was not company policy to deny meals to children. It added that the school district had no official policy on what to do in such situations.
“Employees had taken it upon themselves to institute this change; it was not condoned or approved,” said Whitson spokeswoman Holly Von Seggern. “We had absolutely no idea.”
Whitson’s supplies 80 schools in New England with lunch meals, Von Seggern said. CNN could find no previous reports on similar incidents involving the company.
Kids with a negative balance usually receive “a cheese sandwich, a fruit and vegetable, and milk.” Then the company contacts the parents about payment.
First, let me say that the idea that an outside company can come in and run a public school lunch program is baffling to me, but I can understand why some cash-strapped school districts and states could turn to that model.
I live in suburban Atlanta and all the districts have their own employees who operate the program. The idea that a private company can come into a public school and decide who can or can’t sends chills throughout my body and makes my blood boil. Since the federal government guarantees that a child can have at least one decent meal when he or she is in school, this is an area that should remain off limits to people looking to make a quick buck. That’s one sector of our society private businesses and greedy entrepreneurs shouldn’t be allowed to tamper with.
I can’t decide what disgusts me more: that this food vendor took it upon themselves to force children to go hungry or that they allegedly kept school district officials in the dark about their policy. The idea that anyone would make a child go hungry because they are a dollar or two short on their balance is nothing short of extreme capitalist thinking; make money at all cost, even if it means forcing some children to go hungry at a place where they are guaranteed by law to have one decent meal.
I can’t even stomach how these children must have felt once they were forced to throw away their food (as if the vendor could care less about how *wasteful* this action is). How they had to most likely face the taunts and stares of their classmates; how they had to navigate the laughs and mockery of ruthless children who haven’t been schooled in empathy and respect; how they had to spend the remainder of their day with half-full — or empty in some cases — bellies; how they were also expected to perform to the best of their abilities with growling stomachs.
What further disgusts me is how a food vendor can even think it should be able to set up shop in a school and institute such blatantly discriminatory policies. The idea that a company would rather waste food to prove a point than to feed hungry children should offend and assault the sensibilities of anyone with somewhat of a decent conscious.
What say you about this food vendor’s decision? Fair or not?