At a high school in southwestern Missouri, students with no lunch funds who pick up a tray of food can have it taken away from them and trashed, according to the district.
The Reed Springs School District has drawn criticism recently as some allege the practice shames students whose families might not be able to afford lunch. Students with at least $10 in debt on their lunch accounts are given an alternate meal, which includes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“I have an issue with a child being served a meal tray and a school employee taking it from them in front of their peers and throwing it in the trash,” Tiffany Miller wrote on Facebook in response to a post by the district about the issue.
The district did not immediately return requests for comment from The Star.
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However, it said on Facebook that the practice only occurs at the high school.
“No one enjoys this,” the district wrote on Sunday, adding that multiple attempts to contact families are made when account funds run low.
“We are always willing to work with families to make arrangements to pay off their bills.”
The alternate meal costs 90 cents, while the a regular tray lunch costs $2.45, the district said.
Some on social media took issue with the district not preventing students from picking up a tray of hot food if they are required to receive the alternate meal.
“Basic math: it is better to have one meal eaten and not paid for than TWO meals not paid for, one of which was totally wasted,” Michelle Amann wrote.
Kay Prince added that she thinks there should be “NO exchanges once the child has received the meal. If you didn’t get to them in time that is YOUR FAULT.”
But others supported the policy. John Clark said the outrage directed at Reed Springs is an example of “entitlement society.”
“If you don’t make your house payment the bank takes your house. If you don’t pay your electric bill they shut off your power. You cannot walk out of Wal-mart. Country mart. The gas station or anywhere else without paying for the goods/services you received,” he wrote on Facebook.
Earlier this year, New Mexico became the first state to outlaw shaming children with low meal funds.
The New York Times reported practices such as the one used at Reed Springs are common around the country. The School Nutrition Association reported that at the end of the 2016 school year, more than three-quarters of districts nationwide had uncollected meal debt.
Some districts, like Reed Springs, react to meal debt by discarding hot food and giving an alternate meal, The Times reported. One district in Alabama stamped “I Need Lunch Money,” on students’ arms.
In Harrisonville, the school district drew criticism from parents earlier this year after The Star reported that the district’s meal program debt was paid off before the district implemented what some called a lunch shaming policy.
The USDA issued a policy memo this summer asking school districts to reconsider how they handle unpaid meal charges, according to Marketplace.
Trish Ketzler posted on the Reed Springs Facebook thread that she has struggled in the past with keeping up with her children’s lunch tab.
“They need to adopt the policy of feed the kids regardless of income, balances due, etc.,” she wrote. “These are KIDS... young people who can’t concentrate with an empty belly.”