When Amanda Keown got a call at work from her son last week, the news she received made her furious. Dominic Gant, a junior at Dowagiac Union High School in Dowagiac, Michigan, told his mother that he had not received his hot lunch that day because of an outstanding balance. But instead of just fixing her son’s situation, she decided to help the rest of the students dealing with the same situation.
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Keown, a single mother who holds two jobs to support her family, didn’t realize there were insufficient funds in Dominic’s account (a total of $4.95 was still owed on his account). Though he offered to pay $2 of the $2.45 tab that day with the money he had on him and then bring the remainder in the next day, his offer was turned down and his lunch was thrown in the trash by a school official. Not only was the 16-year-old humiliated in front of his peers by the very public incident, but his name was also posted, along with that of lots of other students with delinquent expenses, on a list in the cafeteria for everyone to see. "I was very angry to the point I was sick to my stomach," Keown tells Yahoo Shine.
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Upset that Dominic went the day without eating all because of an outstanding bill totaling to less than $5, Keown immediately rectified the situation. She paid the balance but, concerned about others like her son, offered to settle all of the other kids' overdue balances, writing a check that included an additional $200 to be divided between the 19 teenagers named. She knew there were more children to help, though, so she didn’t stop there. “I kept picturing the elementary kids and what they have to be thinking going through the same thing,” she says. Keown aired her grievances on Facebook and friends and acquaintances sounded off with corresponding stories. Then she posted a petition to Care2.com to bring more attention to the issue.
Mark Daniel, the superintendent of Dowagiac Union Schools, explains that there are policies in place throughout the district to avoid instances such as these, especially for the younger students. If someone doesn’t have enough money to pay for a meal, then he or she is instructed to talk to an administrator on duty, who in most cases will arrange to get the child a lunch. “It would be a very rare situation for a student not to receive their lunch,” he tells Yahoo Shine. But, Daniel adds, he is very grateful to Keown for bringing this circumstance to his attention and for her donation. “We were doing some things that probably needed to be corrected and I personally want to make sure that we’re consistent throughout the district.”
This isn’t the first noted instance of students being denied a hot lunch. Earlier this year, an eighth grader at a Norwalk, Iowa, school couldn’t eat because of a miscommunication between her parents and her school over bills. And in April, some 25 students at Coelho Middle School in Attleboro, Massachusetts were allegedly refused or forced to dump their food by a worker for the district's service provider due to missed payments. Additionally, a survey of Minnesota public schools in February found that 94 percent of districts in 2013 deprived kids in some way for not having enough money.
While some argue that Keown and other parents who missed their payments are the ones to blame for the incidents, she doesn't believe that young people should be punished for an adult's mistake. “The bottom line is that the food is taken from them,” she says. “It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. The kids shouldn’t have to pay for that.”
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