Stacy Koltiska resigned last week from Wylandville Elementary School in the Canon-McMillan School District after she had to take a hot lunch away from an elementary school student because the child's parent had fallen more than 25 behind in paying for his school lunches. I'll never forget his name, the look on his face," she said. The Canon-McMillan School District enacted the policy this year to deal with a backlog of about 300 families who owed tens of thousands of dollars. Students from kindergarten through sixth grade will lose their hot lunch but be allowed to charge a cold sandwich, fruit and milk to their meal accounts if their parents owe more than 25. Older students get no lunch at all if their parents owe more than 25. District Superintendent Matthew Daniels said the policy has cut down drastically on parents who don't keep current on lunch accounts for their children, and isn't meant to embarrass anyone.
A motel owner in Burlington, Iowa, has surprised the elementary school he attended by writing a 700 check to pay overdue school lunch fees for dozens of kids. Iowa man donates about 700 to cover overdue lunch balances for 89 students at local elementary school https://t.co/2MbSMSzEs9 "I myself positively affected 89 students today. I gave them extra money in the account so that every kid at Grimes Elementary School won't be hungry the rest of the school year. Now it's your turn to do something good for your fellow man," Jerry Fenton commented on his Facebook page last week.
When Michael Padilla was in elementary school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, his family couldn't afford to send him to school with lunch money, so he worked extra hours mopping the school's cafeteria to pay for his midday meal. Years later, when he became a state senator and learned that poor kids were still getting singled out in his home state, he was shocked. "In some schools they were literally stamping the arm of a child saying, 'I need lunch money,'" Padilla said on a recent episode of our food politics podcast, Bite. "That sticks with some kids." So earlier this year, Padilla wrote a bill in conjunction with New Mexico Apple Seed, an anti-hunger nonprofit, to outlaw practices that shame kids who can't fork over for their meals at school.
Over the past three years, school cafeterias have become an unlikely site of controversy. The problem of school lunch debt, or the debt students acquire when they cannot pay for their school lunches, drew national attention back in 2015 when a Colorado cafeteria worker was fired for giving food away to hungry students who didn't qualify for a free or reduced lunch. The same thing has happened to cafeteria workers elsewhere. When a student repeatedly forgets their lunch money or cannot afford their meal, cafeteria workers may be instructed to take away the child's hot meal and replace it with a cold sandwich. This is one example of what's called "school lunch shaming."