Sending students with low meal funds to the back of the lunch line? Giving them an alternate meal of sunflower seed butter and jelly or a cheese sandwich?
That’s what happens in the lunch line at the Harrisonville Elementary School, according to a parent of a daughter who attends the school. The parent posted a note given to her daughter outlining the treatment on Facebook last week.
Such policies were adopted in January by the Harrisonville Board of Education to counter mounting meal debt in the district. They are meant to encourage families to pay down debt, a school official said, but others say the policies shame students for economic reasons outside their control.
“I understand that we have to pay, I get that, but at the same time I don’t understand why they can’t understand it’s not the child’s fault,” said the parent, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution against her daughter.
The parent said her income is too high to qualify for the free or reduced meal program, but even so she didn’t have enough money for her daughter’s lunch at the time. When her daughter owed more than $11, the district’s new policy kicked in. But being sent to the end of the line was not discussed during the district’s adoption of the policies.
Assistant Superintendent Dan Erholtz said the note was meant as an internal communication between the student’s teacher and the lunchroom. It was not meant to be seen by the student.
“Since becoming aware of it, I have had discussions with the school to clarify communication procedures and to ensure that we are not doing anything that might embarrass a child,” Erholtz said.
Sending a student to the back of the line, though, serves to shame them, another parent said.
“Kids see them, and they know the kids at the end of the line are the ones that can’t pay,” said Dawn Canada, whose children used to attend Harrisonville but are now enrolled in the Raymore-Peculiar School District.
Once, Canada’s child owed $13, but the district used automated phone calls to remind Canada to pay on the account, rather than what some would call the shaming tactics used in Harrisonville.
Erholtz, however, said the new policies are working. They have, along with community donations and district contributions, served to decrease the meal account debt in the district by nearly $20,000. In January, the debt was $21,499. By mid-May, it was $1,605, Erholtz said.
“It appears the school community is adopting (the new policies) well,” Erholtz said. “We have increased our communication with parents through additional text reminders, personal phone calls and emails.”
The parent of the Harrisonville Elementary student also said she’s heard of lunches being thrown away in front of students.
“They have enough food for every single child in there, and they’d rather throw it away than have a child eat it,” the parent said.
Others on Facebook posted similar accounts of food being thrown away at Harrisonville schools.
Erholtz, though, said lunches are never thrown away.
The issue of shaming students is being raised in Harrisonville at a time when school lunch debt is affecting many districts around the country. CNN Money reported 76 percent of school districts in America have students with debt. Even so, New Mexico lawmakers recently banned school lunch shaming, and the Texas House revived a bill to prevent schools from stigmatizing students last week. Oklahoma schools can use the tactics, prompting backlash from parents in some districts.