An elementary school student in Ohio had his hot lunch taken away and received a cheese sandwich instead because he owed $9.75 in lunch debt, his grandmother said.
Diane Bailey told NBC affiliate WKYC that her grandson Jefferson Sharpnack attends Green Primary School in Uniontown, a city southeast of Akron. After initially receiving the lunch, it was taken away one day last week — his birthday.
“I can’t believe that it’s cost effective to throw away food and give them cheese and bread,” Bailey said. “When he got off the bus, he said, ‘Worst birthday ever.’”
To make matters worse, Bailey said she had already sent the school a check after receiving a letter about the balance.
The school district should “change their policy or find a different way other than embarrassing the kids,” Bailey said.
After public backlash, the school district did just that.
Superintendent Jeff Miller announced the policy change on Facebook Monday.
Going forward, all students will “receive the standard lunch for the day at their respective buildings regardless of their account balance.”
“We are sensitive to the financial hardship families incur and challenges presented due to the cost of school breakfast and lunches,” he said. “Our staff, in coordination with Family Support Specialists, will continue to work with families to ensure they have access to all available resources to assist with purchasing school meals.”
Student meal debt was reported by 75% of school districts in the U.S. during the 2018-19 academic year, according to the School Nutrition Association.
Under USDA regulations, school districts are allowed to set their own policies for collecting lunch debt, but chosen tactics have varied wildly from accepting donations to threatening to send children to foster care.