Monday, September 15, 2008

I wonder ......

This is from the Everett, WA Herald newspaper. It's about the town I live in. This has been in the news here for the last week and it makes me wonder -WTF were they thinking?

By Julie Muhlstein, Herald Columnist

Innocent children. No lunch money. Food denied.

What a perfect recipe for the heated brouhaha stirred up last week when the public caught wind of a new Edmonds School District lunch policy. Before officials changed their minds Thursday, the district had started the school year enforcing a pay-or-else practice that was nothing short of Dickensian.

Kids behind on bills had cafeteria lunches taken away -- and thrown away, because of food safety rules -- after they'd gone through lunch lines. A substituted cheese sandwich must have been cold comfort after a child was embarrassed in front of other kids.

Reading all that, I could almost hear echoes of Oliver Twist in the work house, holding his bowl for gruel and begging, "Please sir, I want some more."

A day after adding milk to the meager fare, the Edmonds district decided instead to suspend the new policy while seeking a better solution to the lunch budget crunch.

In Herald reporter Kaitlin Manry's article on the issue Wednesday, the money pinch hurting so many families was thrown right in our faces, particularly in the words of Hazelwood Elementary School cashier Barbara Burley: "Could you look into a kindergartner's eyes and take away their lunch and give them a cold cheese sandwich and nothing else?"

No doubt the district's lunch-money shortfall of $207,763 last year had myriad causes, from forgetful kids and irresponsible parents to children who brought sack lunches but decided instead to have cafeteria food. Part of it, though, is real need.

We all know that. Somewhere between paychecks many families bring home, even with several jobs, and the qualifying income for free lunches, is poverty in the shadows. With high costs for housing, groceries, gas and everything else, there is no question some families' cupboards and cash reserves are frighteningly bare.

Of course readers were disturbed by the lunch take-away policy, which put kids on the front line. Manry listened to callers and answered e-mail about the issue all week. What disturbed me was thinking that this is what it takes to stir people up about families in need -- an up-close scenario of a kindergartner being denied a school lunch.

We know there are poor families. We know there are kids living in cars in our own county. We know it, but rarely do we see it. Or think about it. Or get upset enough to do a thing.

Nina Mellish, of Bothell, was upset enough to contact The Herald. The 71-year-old has worked as a teacher's aide and a social worker. In Salem, Ore., she worked at a school in a poor neighborhood where the PTA helped pay for free breakfasts and lunches.

"A lot of these kids would come to school in winter with rubber boots and no shoes or socks," Mellish said. She's seen kids who've had nothing but potato chips for breakfast. "There is no way we should be penalizing a small child," Mellish said. "I really believe little kids should be cared for."

That's a simple statement, but a profound one. It goes way beyond lunches, to health care, educational opportunities and emotional needs. Yes, parents should be responsible. But no, sometimes they are not, for whatever reasons. And kids should be cared for. Period.


Jeni said...

An episode, similar to this, hit my family about a year ago now. My step-granddaughter had managed to get things screwed up with her application for the reduced lunch program. I don't remember all the details now -I think I blogged about it though -but the upshot was that her bill wasn't current so one day, she went to lunch and was handed a brown bag lunch containing a pb&j sandwich, an apple and I believe a container of milk. This went on a couple of days before we learned about it at home, when she was ultra ravenous at supper time and then she mentioned about her lunch.
Ok, I understand sometimes parents give kids lunch money and the kid spends it, but not on the lunch. Sometimes, circumstances change from week to week too with parents finances. But one that that didn't change -was that regardless of whether she qualified for the reduced lunch and had the "hot" lunch, or was behind and was relegated to the "Brown bag" treatment, she was still charged the same amount each day for her lunch. That, plus the fact that part of the school lunch program makes a big whoppy-de-do over the privacy factors and that no one will know if your child is getting lunch they paid for in full, or a reduced fare lunch or free lunch but yet, when kids are each handed a "Brown bag" as they go through the line, don't they think this indicates a loss of privacy issue here?
The whole issue really infuriated the living daylights out of me -especially that the school didn't notify us that her bill was in arrears either.

Precie said...

AW--that news story breaks my heart. And I'm trying very hard to hold my tongue and not devolve into a political rant.

Polly Kahl said...

This really is heartbreaking. No matter which adults caused the problems or how they were caused, it's just not right to treat kids this way.

Ello said...

This post had me teary at the very coldness of the actions that were displayed here. And to humiliate a child in that manner is so infuriating to me that my blood is boiling! It is so wrong on so many levels. Yes it is terrible to have people abusing the lunch privilege, but there has got to be a better way of collecting that money, instead of humiliating a child in that manner. I'm just sick thinking of this.

Robin said...

People just don't think through the consequences of their actions. If someone had pointed out how humiliating this would be to the poor kids, they might have thought, "Hmmm. Bad idea." But some bird brain came up with the idea, and they figured, "Ah. This should stir up those parents!" Too bad there's no way to make sure at least one person with a brain (or common sense) was on each committee.

ChrisEldin said...

This is horrible. We take so much for granted, we really do.
THanks for sharing this. It's hard to read, but we need to be aware of these things.