Colorado and Idaho school districts have fired food service workers in the past year for providing a free meal to a hungry student. This is the case of Della Curry, the school lunch room manager who got fired by the Cherry Creek School District for giving free meals to students who couldn’t pay. Dalene Bowden, a cafeteria worker at Irving Middle School in Pocatello, Idaho, also stepped in for a 12-year-old student who didn’t qualify for a free meal and had no money to pay. A week later, Bowden was terminated from her position.
According to statistics, over 21 million children from low-income families qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch through the National School Lunch Program if their family’s income is 185 percent of the federal poverty line. Sadly, this means a matter of a few dollars can be the difference between getting lunch or not. In some public schools, students who don’t qualify for the low-cost or free lunches program are given a credit that ranges from $5 to $20 when they come to school without money for their meal. Other schools such as the Cherry Creek School District, provide hot meals to students the first three times they forget their lunch, and a small cheese sandwich and milk the fourth time.
As Curry herself noted, the so-called meal provides little nutrition to hungry students, and is not enough to satisfy growing kids and teens. Even worse, getting the cheese sandwich treatment is humiliating once the kids are old enough to understand its real meaning. Yet, many kids in schools across the nation are refused even these meals. “Cafeteria workers are told to throw out the child’s hot tray, leaving the student embarrassed and with nothing to eat,” states Bowden.
In a nationwide survey by No Hungry Child, a staggering 75% of educators noticed that their students came to school hungry, which greatly impacts their academic performance. Many teachers have paid for lunches for hungry children out of their own pocket.
But schools are within their legal rights to deny the students and hold their parents accountable, according to National Education Association. In one case, Willingboro Township Public Schools in New Jersey sent a notice to families threatening to dump students’ lunches in the trash if they were delinquent in payments. According to school food advocate Dana Woldow, this is one of the strictest policies in the nation, however, the consequences should be for the parent or guardian, and not for the kids.