School lunch policy requiring schools to deny meals to students has become another form of “zero tolerance” absurdity. In districts across the country, students are being denied meals, and in some cases even having those meals thrown away right in front of them, because their meal accounts either have no money in them or have a negative balance. This follows a trend in so-called zero tolerance policies that have students punished for otherwise benign offenses, such as shaping a pop tart into a gun and then being suspended for creating a “weapon.”
The latest incident comes from the Salt Lake City schools. School officials had discovered that a large number of Uintah Elementary School students had negative balances on their accounts and the decision was made by the district’s child-nutrition manager to withhold meals from the students on those accounts. Upwards of 40 students at Uintah picked up their meals, brought them to the register, and were forced to watch as not only were the meals denied to them, but then the meals were thrown away. Health regulations prohibit serving food to other students once it had been initially distributed.
School officials initially defended the policy claiming that students are given weekly notifications if their account is “in the red.” Additionally, the school claimed that telephone messages were left for each of the offending accounts warning parents that their students may be denied lunch. They later admitted that not all parents were able to receive the warning before their children went to school and were subsequently denied meals. This school lunch policy is just another example of zero tolerance absurdity.
Parents were understandably upset by this policy. They claimed that not only was it cruel to deny their children a meal, but that the way their children were treated was humiliating. Having their meals “snatched” from them in front of their peers and thrown in the trash was an unnecessary embarrassment. In a Facebook posting, James Olsen, a representative for the Salt Lake District, agreed that the situation was poorly handled and the district would be “working with parents” to ensure that it did not happen again in the future.
Salt Lake City is not the only place this has occurred recently. Similar situations have taken place in Willingboro, New Jersey and Attleboro, Tennessee. Parents in Willingboro received a letter from the local school district stating that free meals would no longer be given to any students that did not have the means to pay. Twenty-five students in Attleboro faced a similar situation to those in Salt Lake City and were denied meals after school officials determined they had negative balances.
Great emphasis has been placed in recent years on childhood health and nutrition. Combatting childhood obesity has become one of the primary issues for First Lady Michelle Obama. In the context of all this attention and all these efforts, it seems absurd that a school would deny a child a meal under circumstances such as those in these three cases. School lunches can be criticized for their nutritional value, but for some children, it is a vital resource. It may be the only meal they receive during the day. For schools to deny children school lunches in an extension of zero tolerance policies is an absurd situation.
Editorial by Christopher V. Spencer
The Sun Chronicle