Tell Utah, Don't Let Schools Take Away Kids' Lunches When Parents Can't Pay

  • by: Susan V
  • target: Utah State Office of Education and USDA

Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City has apologized after its cafeteria staff seized and threw away about 40 children’s lunches last week. But is an apology enough?

The incident left some children in tears and all wondering what was going on.

What was going on, according to the school, was that a state child nutrition manager had the school send out unpaid account notices to parents, which some say they didn’t get. Children of those that didn’t pay up got their lunches taken away at check out, and they were offered an orange and milk instead. Most disturbing is that those lunches were thrown in the trash.

The school did right by promptly apologizing and admitting that the situation should have been and would be handled differently in the future. But if this means children will be more quietly deprived of meals from now on, that’s not a solution.

Boston has joined other cities to show there's a better way - a "Community Eligibility Option” that provides free breakfast and lunch to all students.

Ask Utah to take better care of its school children, and ensure they all get a full lunch in the future.

We, the undersigned, say all school children deserve a full lunch, whether their parents pay up or not!

This incident exposes how children can be bullied and blamed by schools for things completely beyond their control, and often they don’t get caught. The school now admits it had routinely reminded kids of their parents’ debts as they moved through the lunch line. This is also unfair harassment, especially when we’re talking about elementary school children.

Furthermore, some parents reported that they didn’t get any notices about lunch account balances, or they thought they were current, which explains why they didn’t pay. Others certainly could have forgotten or were unable to pay right away.

Parents want to know their kids are being fed at school, which is after all compulsory, and that they aren't being blamed for mistakes parents or schools make.

Hopefully Uintah will keep its word and make sure nothing like this happens again, and it's good that a bipartisan effort is looking into the matter. However there are concerns about the school’s apology implying that the incident was handled wrong only because the food was taken after students went through the line.

According to its website, Utah's Child Nutrition Programs acknowledge that well-nourished children learn and develop much better than those who aren't, and that it seeks "to improve the nutritional well being of all Utah children so they may reach their full potential."

The actions of Utah’s CNP should match its goals, not the other way around. The school and the state should be very clear that students lunches will not be taken from them in any manner or for any reason in the future.

Thanks for your time.

Update #12 years ago
Uintah's cafeteria manager and her "boss" are now on paid leave while this matter is investigated.
Prompted by news of the Utah incident, parents in other states are sharing similar stories, and a principal says she was fired from a Colorado charter school for speaking out against its policy of stamping kids of non-payers - like "branding them."
Please continue to share this story so no school kid is ever deprived of a regular meal or humiliated like this again.
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