Saturday, November 09, 2013

Shaming kids at mealtime: kid's school breakfast trashed over 30-cent debt

UPDATE: Jan. 30, 2014

Utah hops on the bandwagon, throwing out 40 lunches in front of children who were in debt. See story #4 below.


We frequently see poor judgment among school personnel. Recently a cafeteria worker in Texas actually threw a child's breakfast in the trash! Locally, superintendent Lowell Billings of Chula Vista Elementary School District thought it was a good idea to shame school children at meal time (see the second story below). The third story below tells about a breakfast meal that was thrown away--but not in the trash--when Lowell Billings was in charge at CVESD.

Of course, the cafeteria worker wasn't paid a huge salary by the taxpayers in the expectation that she would use good judgment, but Mr. Billings was.


Kid's school breakfast trashed over 30-cent debt
by FaithGardner
Daily Kos
Nov 08, 2013

How's this for petty? A student on the reduced meals plan at Barber Middle School in Dickinson, Texas, was 30 cents short in his meals account when he came to the cafeteria to get his breakfast. Rather than figure out some kind of solution to the problem, a cafeteria worker decided it would be totally okay to throw the kid's breakfast in the trash.

Jennifer Castilleja of Dickinson County said she received a call from her son's school Wednesday morning and was told the cafeteria refused to let the boy eat unless she came in and paid the 30 cents owed.

When Castilleja told school officials she was on her way to the school to pay and asked that they let her son eat until she arrived, the school refused.

According to KTRK-TV, Castilleja says her son is on the reduced meal cost plan and her prepaid account had simply run out of funds.

Needless to say, not only was this petty and unnecessary (and waste of a perfectly good breakfast!), but it was humiliating for the kid. "There were kids all around him," his mother said. "I think he may have been a little embarrassed and upset and, of course, hungry."

Even besides the point this was 30 EFFING CENTS, I don't understand why anyone would feel it's acceptable to punish a sixth grader for insufficient funds in the meal account. And it's pretty common knowledge that skipping breakfast leads to poor focus and health in children.

Here's to hoping that cafeteria worker was reprimanded for their behavior, and that the school district takes a look at their policy of punishing schoolchildren for insignificant debts like these.

COMMENT: Samantha Kilgore
"This makes me both so sad and so angry. And I wonder, too, if the child had not been part of the reduced meals program, if the server would have just shrugged off the 30 cent difference, or allowed the child to have the meal and charged later for it."


The Scarlet Cheese Sandwich
by Gerald Pugliese
June 18, 2007

Apparently elementary schools in California are having a tough time with delinquent school lunch debts. So, if the parents won’t pay, the kids will. Instead of a customary school lunch, children with debt get a meesly cheese sandwich. Richard Marosi of The Los Angles Times reports...

The Lunch of Shame
By Joe Deegan
San Diego Reader
Oct. 25, 2007

...Nobody seems surprised that Chula Vista Elementary School District's cheese sandwich menu wasn't nominated as one of this year's candidates [in the School Lunch competition]. The sandwich is two slices of American cheese slapped dry into whole-wheat bread.

[Maura Larkins' comment: No one likes being forced to eat something. The whole wheat bread is wonderfully healthy--but I fear that CVESD is doing aversion therapy with it. I fear that CVESD's policy will serve to make children prefer the less-healthy white bread. And of course, American cheese has little nutritional value.]

In June, harsh spotlights were shone on the district's practice of offering the "alternative meal" to kids whose parents were delinquent on their school lunch bills. Both the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Los Angeles Times singled out the Chula Vista district for using one of the more draconian approaches to the problem. Subsequently, the Union-Tribune ran an editorial condemning the practice. All critics seem to agree that children shouldn't be shamed in front of other kids by depriving them of schools' regular lunches. And they shouldn't be punished for their parents' irresponsibility.

The intent of the bland alternative meal, of course, was to induce the children to pester their parents to pay up. Chula Vista claimed that serving the cheese sandwich reduced its delinquency balance from $285,000 in 2003 to $67,800 this year.

For comparison, San Diego Unified School District, which is kindergarten through 12th grade, reports that as of June, its outstanding balance was $13,500. Joanne Tucker is food services marketing coordinator for the district. "The problem of delinquent accounts in the School Lunch Program is serious everywhere in the country," she tells me by phone. "After all, we're a business. I feel sorry that the Chula Vista district has gotten so much negative publicity over their program. The cheese sandwich meal is nutritious. I went to a conference in Chicago not long ago, and an official from a Kansas district told us, 'We're in the black.' People wanted to know how they did it, and he said that when parents had unpaid balances, his district didn't give their children anything to eat. Well, we would never do anything like that in San Diego."

I ask if San Diego Unified used the alternative-meal approach to collecting debt. "No," says Tucker, "our food services director is much too kindhearted. Each of our schools calls delinquent parents to remind them that they're past due. Some schools are more successful than others. Soon we are going to an automated calling program in the hopes of doing better."

On June 25, Speaker of the California State Assembly Fabian Núñez wrote a letter to all school districts in California to discover how many "are providing an 'alternative' -- and intentionally undesirable -- meal to their children.... These districts are...stigmatizing children to put pressure on their parents."

Lowell Billings, superintendent of the Chula Vista Elementary School District, responded to Núñez three days later. "We serve six entrees each day, one of which is a cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread.... Additionally, with each meal [including the alternative cheese sandwich meal] we offer a full salad bar, a full fresh fruit bar, a promotional item, and milk, all for the price of $1.50 for full-pay students and $.75 for low income half-pay students.

"The alternative meal largely targets students with families most able to pay.... I have great difficulty understanding this as a 'stigma meal' or a less than nutritional offering. We serve approximately 400 cheese sandwiches daily. [Sometimes] they are the meal of choice. Feedback from principals indicates that some students have been found to throw away a packed lunch to get an alternative meal. [Billings confessed to eating and liking the cheese sandwich too.] Furthermore, principals do not find widespread student self-esteem issues associated with our practice....

[Maura Larkins' comment: I'm sure Mr. Billings hears exactly what he wants to hear from principals. CVESD is a very top-down organization. I wouldn't be surprised if sycophant principals are actually agreeing with Mr. Billings that children don't have any problem being forced to eat something as a punishment for their parents. Why does Mr. Billings think that kids throw away a packed lunch? For exactly the same reason that they don't want cheese sandwiches shoved down their throats.]

"The delinquent meal balances are owed by the highest income families in our District. Why should we allow their indiscretion to impact those students who are most needy? There is a lesson in this for our students. Data [from] the Junior Achievement of San Diego and Imperial Counties show that the number one cause of college dropouts is not poor academic standing but credit card debt. Where do they learn this important life skill set? "Our state legislature," Billings concluded, "could benefit from this same lesson. I am fearful that the ongoing structural state budget deficit undermines our children's future."

[Maura Larkins' comment: I know for a fact that Lowell Billings has wasted $100,000s of taxpayer dollars trying to cover up wrongdoing in the district. Also, huge amounts are wasted on expensive programs that don't work. Maybe someone should make Lowell Billings eat cheese sandwiches. Perhaps then he'd be more careful with taxpayer dollars.]

Apparently, Núñez, who was recently skewered in a Union-Tribune editorial for using campaign funds for personal trips, was not convinced. In the July 5 Los Angeles Daily News, he wrote of "at least four school districts in the state [that] serve substandard lunches to children whose parents fall into arrears on payment into their child's lunch accounts." "If the 'dunce cap' were still in use as a schoolhouse punishment, there are several school officials in California who need to be assigned corners and fitted with cones.... Make no mistake," Núñez went on, "parents have a duty to fulfill their responsibilities.... But leave the kids out of it. Any dunce who allows the punishing of kids over their parents' mistakes is the one who deserves to be shamed."

But what of the superintendent's defense? It is not a good sign that at the end of his letter he changed the subject to the legislature's problems. To address the alternative meal's inclusion of salad and fruit bars made more sense. Even that, however, is less than reassuring, given kids' notorious aversion to salads. The additional fact that the Chula Vista district recently started serving a ham-turkey sandwich as another alternative meal was a concession to critics. Many parents had been arguing that constant repetition of only the cheese sandwich alternative would provoke kids to throw it away. Now there is even talk among district employees of occasionally offering tacos as the alternative meal.


Here's another story of a school breakfast that was thrown out--but not in the trash. This also happened during Lowell Billings' term as superintendent of CVESD.

Formerly President of
Chula Vista Educators,
Peg Myers now works
for the district's
Human Resources Department,
keeping teachers in line

The morning after the May 27, 2008 meeting at Castle Park Elementary, one of the parents who spoke out at a meeting took her children in to the school, and came back to find that someone had thrown cereal and milk on her car.

Children are not normally allowed to leave the school cafeteria, where breakfast was being served at the time of the vandalism, with milk and cereal. At least one adult who is connected to the "Family" was in the cafeteria.

What interest would a child have in someone else's mother who spoke at a meeting? The speaker's own children are too young to come to the attention of kids old enough to pull a stunt like this.

But several staff members and teachers at Castle Park Elementary have demonstrated out-of-control hostility in recent years, attacking fellow teachers and principals with shocking malice. The longtime leader of the Castle Park Family was Peg Myers, whose work history demonstrates the bizarre interactions between the Castle Park Family and the district office. Two of the last three CVE presidents (Peg Myers and Gina Boyd) have come to the CVE presidency directly from Castle Park Elementary, and the other one, Jim Groth, aided the cover-up of wrongdoing at the school.

Story #4 Utah School Threw Out Students’ Lunches Because They Were In Debt
By Annie-Rose Strasser
Think Progress
January 30, 2014

A Utah school’s child nutrition manager threw out the lunches of about 40 elementary school students this week after the kids’ parents fell behind on payment.

Some parents at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City say they didn’t even realize they were indebted to the school. The school apparently made calls Monday and Tuesday telling some parents that there was a balance on their accounts, and the children of those who had missed the call were the ones whose lunches got thrown out.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the child nutrition manager’s original plan was to withhold lunches for kids whose parents hadn’t paid. But cafeteria workers were unable to distinguish who was on that list before serving. Once the food had been dished out, food safety codes say it can’t be given to another student and must be thrown away.

The children were given milk and fruit instead of a full lunch — the meal that the school says it gives any child who isn’t able to pay.

“So she took my lunch away and said, ‘Go get a milk,’ ” recalled one student, a fifth grader named Sophia. “I came back and asked, ‘What’s going on?’ Then she handed me an orange. She said, ‘You don’t have any money in your account so you can’t get lunch.’”

Parents were outraged by the move, calling it “traumatic and humiliating.”v Salt Lake City’s school district has apologized to parents and students for the incident. “We again apologize and commit to working with parents in rectifying this situation and to ensuring students are never treated in this manner again,” the district said in a Facebook note.

Still, the incident raises longstanding questions about child nutrition and low-income families. It is not the first time that students have had their lunch thrown out for insufficient funds. In November, a Texas middle school student’s lunch was thrown away because he was 30 cents short on payment.

But depriving children of food — and embarrassing them in front of their peers — isn’t the only option. In Boston, for example, public schools provide all students with cost-free breakfast and lunch no matter their financial situation.

A compelling set of evidence drives such decisions. Child hunger has lasting impacts on children’s mental health, as well as cognitive and social ability. And while more than one in five children lack stable access to food, only half of the students who are eligible for free breakfasts actually receive them.

No comments: