Unfortunately, the child who had his lunch thrown in the trash because his debit balance was negative that we reported on several months ago was not an isolated incident. In fact, it has spread to several states.
One of the biggest school districts in Utah was forced to apologize after a cashier in the cafeteria threw the lunches of almost 40 students in the trash, after telling them that there was no money in their food accounts.
“People are upset, obviously, by the way this has been handled because it’s really needless and quite mean,” said mother Erica Lukes. “Regardless if it’s $2, $5, you don’t go about rectifying a situation with a balance by having a child go through that.”
Striking is her daughter’s description of how the situation unfolded: After her lunch – as well as others’ – was taken, other children graciously shared their food with them.
“I think it’s despicable,” the mom said. “These are young children that shouldn’t be punished or humiliated for something the parents obviously need to clear up.”
Yesterday, the Salt Lake City School District spokesman Jason Olsen issued an apology:
“This was a mistake,” he said. “There shouldn’t have been food taken away from these students once they went through that line.”
Parents of the children who attend the school are questioning the sincerity of the district officials, wondering if they’re really just scapegoating one or two lowly cafeteria employees for doing what the district instructed them to do.
“Our kids deserve the truth and an apology, a personal apology from the district employee responsible,” said Kevin Conway, whose daughter, a third-grader, was among those denied lunch on Tuesday.
“It feels like a ‘cover-your-a–’ kind of thing,” said Conway. “We’re adults. When our kids make a mistake we expect them to say sorry. Here these authority figures have an opportunity to learn from their mistake, to teach by example, and they’re not.”
“I got a call from my daughter during the lunch hour. She was crying and saying, ‘They won’t let me eat lunch,’” said Conway, who was nowhere near school or a computer to load her lunch card with money.
“I asked her to put her teacher on the phone. [The teacher] told me, ‘This is happening to a lot of kids today,’ and said she would go to the lunchroom and take care of it,” Conway said. “But when my daughter came home she said she was given an orange and milk and that a friend had given her some potato chips.”
Conway acknowledges, “I should have been checking my daughter’s balance.” But he said he had never received a past-due notice from school.
“The school has three phone numbers for me and three email addresses. But how did I hear I had a negative $4 balance? From my daughter calling me and crying,” he said. “Everyone is culpable here except the kids.”
Reports of these incidents sparked a national outcry from parents, and prompted – along with reactions ranging from death threats to donations – Utah legislators to stage a news conference in front of the school.
Republican state Sen. Todd Weiler said the district made a “grievous mistake” that “rises to the level of bullying. These children were humiliated in their own school, in front of their classmates.”
After Lukes called the school to resolve the issue, a cafeteria worker told her that her daughter’s account was not overdue and that “a mistake had been made”. To try to make themselves sound like something better than, say, heartless monsters, the cafeteria said they gave the children “fruit and milk” for lunch instead.
The school district spokesman said that the school had notified some of the parents on Monday that their children’s lunch accounts were past due ; However, the cashier violated district policy by not giving parents time to rectify their overdue status by taking away lunches on Tuesday.
Recent reports have said that two cafeteria employees are now on paid administrative leave.
That cashier should do jail time, in my opinion. She’s a bully and a monster, and no child should ever go hungry, especially when the food is right there and readily available. She wasted taxpayer money by throwing food in the trash, and displayed behavior unbecoming of an American citizen.
“This is sickening,” read one posted by Susan Marie Thomas. “You are the people entrusted for the care of children? Disgusting!”
“Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria?” Kingston said.
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