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School Lunches Grabbed from Utah Students and Thrown Into Trash

School Lunches Grabbed from Utah Students and Thrown Into Trash

Earlier this week at our neighborhood school, Uintah Elementary, about forty children stood in line to pay for their lunches only to have them abruptly taken away and then thrown into the trash. Why? Because their parents had not paid their cafeteria bill. Even though my children were not involved, I feel this needlessly harsh act in complete public view was extremely disturbing on so many levels – the humiliation, the waste, and the bullying by school administrators.

Yes, bullying. How could it be classified as anything else – it was aggressive, intimidating and humiliating for all of the children involved. Shame, shame, shame on who ever thought this was a good plan. Apparently, the lovely cafeteria worker, Shirley, who puts her heart and soul into those kids burst into tears at the whole affair. So did a few kids.

The shocked children with overdue balances who just had their hot lunch confiscated and dumped, were then told to go get a milk and an orange. ”So she took my lunch away and said, ‘Go get a milk,’” Sophia said. “I came back and asked, ‘What’s going on?’ Then she handed me an orange. She said, ”You don’t have any money in your account so you can’t get lunch.”

Giving a child with an overdue balance “fruit and milk only” will not solve the problem either as kids are very savvy and will understand that “those kids” are coming from either poor families or families derelict in paying their bills — especially after the regretful and very public incident yesterday. The end result is the child will still very likely be humiliated in front of their peers. My guess is many children will forgo any lunch in order to avoid the public shame. Countless studies show that good nutrition and regular meals are essential to learning, so how is this policy supporting students or teachers?

I understand that there are parents who do not for whatever reason pay their school bills, and this draconian policy will likely result in more bills being paid, but there must be another way that does not humiliate children for something they have so little to no control over. I urged school administrators to look into other options. Maybe a slush-fund that can help cover bills temporarily? Or just automatically enroll these children with chronic negative balances in the Federal Free Lunch program. At the very least, warn the child privately before he or she goes to the lunch line and tries to collect a lunch!

Furthermore, if a family is truly financially-strapped, then we should come together as a community and make sure there is enough money in each child’s account so that they can be guaranteed access to a healthy lunch daily. I personally, would be happy to help a family in legitimate need and I am sure many others would be willing to help out too.

Our neighborhood is relatively affluent and politically-active, so outraged parents, including me, made sure the press was alerted to this Dickens-like situation – and now the story has gone viral, even across the pond to the BBC. Additionally, two state senators were notified and they showed-up the next day to have lunch with kids and find out exactly why this happened. With this immediate backlash by parents, the Child Nutrition Manager who made this shameful decision, was put on paid administrative leave. Many of us parents have called for this person’s – who has not been named – termination.

Ironically, earlier this month, former Colorado elementary school principal Noelle Roni said she opposed a similar shaming practice at her school, where kids who had zero or negative balances on their cafeteria accounts would have their hands stamped before lunch, so that they could only get a milk and a fruit. Roni says she had tried to halt this humiliating hand-stamping program and for that she was fired.

What suggestions do Care2 readers have that do not involve confiscating lunches from the hands of babes to solve this problem?

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Cherise Udell

Cherise Udell is a mom, clean air advocate, anthropologist and feline aficionado with the nomadic habit of taking spontaneous sojourns to unusual destinations. Before her adventures in motherhood, she was an intrepid Amazon jungle guide equipped with a pair of sturdy wellingtons and a 24-inch machete, as well as a volunteer at a rainforest animal rescue center.

261 comments

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4:35PM PDT on Jul 6, 2014

Should we get the President and the First Lady involved?

1:41PM PDT on Jun 30, 2014

I have heard this and obviously our congress does not get it I email my reps on daily basis on varying thing from protect families to animals rights.

1:35PM PST on Feb 21, 2014

Really shocking! Feed the children - how else are they going to succeed in school? Free, nutritious school lunches for all is an investment for the future.

9:22PM PST on Feb 18, 2014

Shocking.And throwing away food and leaving children hungry and humilated.Instead they should find out why the bills have not been payd and see to it that either parents pay or children from poorer familys get lunch for free.
What kind of country wants their children to go hungry.Often the school lunch is the only proper meal during a day for some children.

5:06AM PST on Feb 17, 2014

Awful, awful thing to do.
I'm Australian, so the lunch system you guys have in the States strikes me as odd. Here in Oz most kids take their lunch to school every day. Those more affluent (or for a real treat for the less so) can purchase food from the canteen (tuck shop). What are the prices like for this system you have?

4:06AM PST on Feb 15, 2014

FINANCE requires an ADULT conversation. PARENTS need to be notified and arrangements made BUT THROWING OUT already served lunches is NEVER appropriate. Humans need food to nourish their minds and bodies. It is quite possible that school lunch is the ONLY MEAL some kids get. It may be even MORE possible that kids without lunch MONEY may not have food at home EITHER!

9:20AM PST on Feb 13, 2014

Where were the pro life groups when you really need them? Oh yes of course once you are born you are on your own, no help then. Our wonderful GOP CON/gress just passed a great CON JOB on supposedly helping small farmers with tax subsidies. But of course attached to this wonderful help? There was a very significant cut on SNAP benefits! My heart goes out to the students who were disrespected, shamed and humiliated in front of their classmates. Not only were the innocent children treated egregiously by some very stupid by the book morons but to top it all off the children were left HUNGRY! Do not normally like any form of violence, but a plastic tray slap on these fools arses done publicly would be a lovely payback. Yes, the school system has changed their "policy" but what about the 40 kids? Will they be teased or bullied because of what happened? Most probably yes. The principal of the school should have a talk to the entire school and apologize publicly to the kids and make sure that these affected students are not wrong in any way.

2:04AM PST on Feb 11, 2014

Thanks for sharing!

3:49PM PST on Feb 10, 2014

The Salt Lake City school district just changed their policy! WONDERFUL NEWS!

8:37PM PST on Feb 9, 2014

It was harmful to act in such manner. The food was already served, why not let the kids have it!
There should be a slush fund so that kids can have their lunches and parents should be contacted on an individual basis to discover if a referral to the Federal Free Lunch program is warranted.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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