Like most of the rest of the country, I was appalled back in January when I read the story about the kids in Utah who had their lunches taken from them and thrown away because their school lunch accounts were delinquent. Then, recently, I saw a story about a bus driver in Georgia who'd been fired because he complained on Facebook about a student at his school going hungry for the same reason.
Last week, I picked up the phone and called the administrator at my kids' school who supervises our lunch program because it embarrassed me that I didn't know our district's delinquent lunch-account policy. I was told that kids with negative balances are allowed to charge set meals, but not to choose a la carte items. Then he threw a statistic at me that stopped me dead in my tracks: here, in a fairly well-to-do school district that might have a few kids qualifying for reduced-cost or free meals, but likely not many, a full THIRD of student accounts are delinquent at any given time. Imagine what that number might look like in a school with a different demographic population. Then further imagine how any reasonable business might possibly begin to function with a third or more of its clientele perennially behind on its payments! You can readily see how this could become a significant operational issue.
At some point, for at least some of these kids, it comes back to parental responsibility. If you have the money for a hot lunch, put it in the damned account already. If you don't want to spring for the school lunch, pack a lunch. If you don't have the money for either option, sign the kid up for the free or reduced-cost meal plan through the school. The form is right there in the packet that they hand you at the beginning of the year or whenever you come in. But whatever you do, DON'T leave the poor kid hanging in the middle, for crying out loud. Your financial situation and decision-making are likely not at all within their control, but darned if they aren't the ones taking the consequences squarely in their psyches and stomachs. No school district's food-service program can sustain (for long, anyway) an obligation to feed every child who comes in without funds, despite the fact that is absolutely the right thing to do from both the moral and practical standpoints. If that kid is getting fed, the money for it has to come from somewhere, and school budgets these days aren't a good place to look for extra dollars.
Yes, I know that some parents don't or can't parent well. (I hope to hell that the kids of those parents can get help navigating the meal system through the school service providers whose jobs are to find and help them.) But for damned sure, in our district, that ain't the parents of a third of the student body. Not sure why people would expect free lunches for their kids--especially in those kinds of numbers--and be surprised when any school district pushes back for financial reasons. And most importantly, who loses out in this situation?? The kids. Any real solution to this problem has to start with everyone involved doing everything in their power to make sure that kids are fed; period.