Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cafeteria Quandry

First - let me get my Bushism for the day out of the way.
April 17, 2007
"I believe we are called to do the hard work to make our communities and quality of life a better place." - Collinsville, Illinois; January 5, 2005

Hmmmm. Now, exactly what does that say again, there?

Well, I'm going to take that statement and stretch it a bit to cover a program initiated in the schools, oh I don't know, a good many years ago, at least as far back as when my oldest was in grade school anyway, and that's been all most 30 years ago now.

The School's "free lunch" program. A good idea, yes it was, still is. For many families struggling to just get kids adequate clothes to wear and some food on the table, adding the cost of a lunch at the school cafeteria, at full price, can be something difficult for many to afford - especially if you have more than one kid in school too.

I know when my kids were in school, I was darned thankful that they had the "free or reduced rate" lunch program available.

And, because our combined income here is not all that high for the number of people living in this house, my step-granddaughter has always qualified for the "free/reduced" lunch program at the school.

Until, apparently, this year.

Back in late August, early September, my daughter filled out the mandatory paperwork, the kid turned the papers in and nothing was returned. She got her lunches at school through it, no problem at all. That is until about a month ago when, because she was in the Drama Club and the kids' annual school play was about to be presented, a notice came forth from the school that any student who was delinquent in paying their cafeteria fees would not be allowed to participate in the school play.

And, the step-granddaughter it seems had been deemed ineligible for the free/reduced lunch program at school this year even though the family's income was the same as the previous year or very little variation on it plus, we even had an added member to the family in the past year too. Go figure!

But, what was really annoying was the fact that at no time was any word sent forth from the school that she had been ruled ineligible for that program nor was any bill ever sent either on a month-to-month basis as to what these arrearages were - that is until the total came to around $130 owed.

My daughter went up to the school and spoke to the gentleman who is the administrator there and he says no paper work was submitted but the stepgranddaughter says no, she turned the papers in and even stated who she turned them in to in the office - the secretary.

Even so, why was nothing sent here before this bill got that high for openers?

The administrator gave my daughter papers to fill out to apply for the reduced/free lunch program and after about a week, got a notice that the kid is eligible for the reduced lunch program, however, it was not made retroactive - it just started to take effect now. Also, in order for the kid to participate in the school play, my daughter had to make payment arrangements with the school to show "good faith" that this bill would be taken care of.

As of today, she had paid $80 towards the bill and the stepgranddaughter was to be eligible for reduced rate lunches and would be allowed access to the cafeteria, yadda yadda.

However, today she came home from school and told us she was starving because she couldn't eat the lunch they handed her in the cafeteria today. Ok, I was expecting it to be that perhaps they had served some concoction that she had decided she didn't like very much but when she told us what she and five others in the line were given, I was shocked, really shocked.

She and five other students were singled out and handed a brown bag containing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple while all the other students were allowed to proceed through the line and partake of buttered noodles and steakums - two things the kid actually likes of the cafeteria line food products.

The other five students - like my stepgranddaughter - were children whose cafeteria bill was delinquent too.

Now, I remember when the reduced/free lunch program began and there were great pains taken to make sure that other students didn't know which students received free, which received reduced and which ones paid full price in the cafeteria because this would or could cause social peer pressures for those getting free or reduced rate lunches - being considered "too poor." So all students were to be served the same meals, treated identically while in the cafeteria line - free, reduced or full-payor alike.

But, to deliberately single kids out because their parents for whatever reason were delinquent in payment of their cafeteria bill, even when the school had been negligent on their part in notifying us, at least, that there was an outstanding bill to begin with, certainly seems more than a bit over the top and also, very discriminatory in nature to me.

My son-in-law suggested to his daughter that she should perhaps take her own "Brown-bag" lunch and make sure to pack a container of a supper entre leftover if possible - one that needed heating - and to take it to the cafeteria personnel and ask if she could use their microwave to warm her own "brown bag" lunch then.

I'm for my daughter calling the school though and lodging a mega complaint about this treatment, as being unfair and grossly discriminatory.

What would you do? Oh, and by the way, each "brown bag" lunch given out had the student's name on it too.


Jane Richardson said...

I agree. Of course it's discriminatory, and what's more, it's using the children to 'shame' the parents. As you say, who knows why the other parents didn't pay - weren't told, couldn't pay, refused to pay, whatever - but to take that out on the children is grossly unfair. And how can they justify not giving the children the same meals, regardless of the payment situation? Again, that's making the kids suffer. Is a sandwich and an apple really nutitionally sufficient to keep a child going for the rest of the day?
And by insisting the bill's paid before they can take part in the school playing is punishing the children for something they can't do anything about.
The school is putting the children in an unfair situation, and is singling them out. What is this teaching the OTHER kids in the school? And this is ADULTS doing this! I agree about lodging a complaint. If your daughter knows any of the other parents involved, could she and they lodge a complaint together? Jane x

Linda L Rucker said...

Ah yes, sounds like the schools here in Orange County! My grandkids went through the same thing. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and an apple . No milk or juice, just water, and to top it all off, the lunchroom lady spoke in loud and very clear terms when she told my two grandsons that they were not eligible for free lunch and if they were too poor to buy their lunches, then perhaps it would be a good idea for mom to purchase lunch boxes for them.
The oldest boy, ten, was totally humiliated, the youngest, eight was confused, because he knew they qualified for the program cause they were on food stamps.
Anyway, my daughter, who does not take kindly to anyone messing with her kids took herself down to the school at lunchtime the next day and proceeded to read the lunchroom lady the riot act in front of the whole school and let her know in no uncertain terms that she was an idiot who needed to go back to school herself and learn to read. She said this as she shoved the acceptance form under the lady's nose.
Of course my oldest grandson was even more humiliated that his mother showed up in school, but the youngest was tickled that his mom stood up for him.
Schools are sometimes in serious need of overhauling!!

Gene Bach said...

They would be taking both muself and the administrator to the hospital...to pick my boot out of their butt.

TomCat said...

I would me ,aking a stink sufficiently loud and long for the administrator to know that he wasv't going to get away with taking his secretary's error out on my family.