High school senior Sierra Feitl was in the lunch line on Monday when the girl in front of her was told to return her tray of food. “They were like, ‘You owe $25.60; I have to take the tray from you,’” Feitl told NBC affiliate WTHR. That day, all students who had hit a $25 debt limit with their lunch balances were given an “alternate lunch” of a cheese or peanut butter sandwich and milk.
The Kokomo school district in Indiana sent parents letters at the end of last year to alert them to the new debt policy, which went into effect on Jan. 1. It reads: “Once the $25.00 charge limit has been reached, an alternate meal will be provided to the student. The parent and/or guardian of the student will receive an automated phone call and/or email explaining that the student has reached his/her charge limit.”
Jeff Hauswald, superintendent of Kokomo School Corporation, told WTHR that the rule follows federal regulations and aligns with other surrounding districts. Last year, the district had to foot the bill for more than $50,000 worth of unpaid school meals.
Finances aside, Feitl objected to the way the students were treated, and she snapped a photo of the cheese sandwich to post to Facebook with this message: “If you owe $25 or more on your lunch account, this is what Kokomo High School provides you for lunch. Two slices of bread and two slices of cheese. Absolutely mortifying. My heart goes out to the kids that I go to school with that get their only meal a day at school.” Her post has been shared nearly 800 times, and there is a heated discussion in the comments.
“My main concern is the fact that my friends and peers who received the cheese sandwich had lunch taken away from them in front of everyone,” Feitl tells Yahoo Parenting. “It’s high school — no one knows why you don’t have the money in your account, and they’re going to assume things.”
While the policy does not apply to students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch, many people side with Feitl in objecting to the way the kids were called out in front of fellow students. One commenter wrote: “I do worry about the kids being made fun of … it’s not the child’s fault. They have enough pressures at school, now having the lunch tray taken away at the end of the line and handed a sack. … I just don’t like it.” Another posted, “Refusing to give the kids a proper lunch for any reason is totally unacceptable.”
Among commenters on the post were a few generous souls who offered to help. One man posted, “I will donate money to a kid that is behind so they can get a proper meal. Wish I could do more than help a few. Inbox me if your child needs it.”
Some people felt the school shouldn’t be blamed for enforcing district policy — they pointed fingers at parents. One commented, “I find it ridiculous that everyone is blaming the school for this instead of the PARENTS. Parents are notified when their kids’ lunch accounts are negative. There is NO excuse for not paying for your child’s lunch. … People in this country are so entitled it’s ridiculous. … Let’s start being more responsible parents, and less entitled citizens, and take care of OUR responsibilities.”
Another commenter offered, “I know it’s a painful lesson for the child when it sounds like it’s the parents who never learned to not sit back and wait for someone else to do the work. Hopefully incentive for the child — a hard lesson to learn at school. But it is an education. We have to teach them to fish — even if their parents don’t.”
Still others objected to the sparsity of the so-called alternate lunch. “I truly think that the school board needs to reevaluate the alternative lunch being handed out. Does this even follow legal guidelines for lunches?” asked one commenter. Another posted, “Where is the fruit, vegetable, and dairy serving?”
Kokomo parent Kim Willhite put her opinion simply to WTHR: “It was a slap in the face to the kids. Just, ‘Here’s a piece of bread with a piece of cheese on it.’”
Top photo: Facebook/Sierra Feitl