Roughly 50 million American school children qualify for reduced school lunches every day in the United States. And that doesn’t count the millions more whose parents or guardians that are struggling but are too proud or don’t know how to ask for help. For too many kids, school lunch may be their first, and only decent meal of the day. Most teachers and administrators know this and go out of their way to make sure that kids that are poor or underfed are given the same respect as any other kid in line for wilted lettuce and tater tots. Apparently some school officials in Salt Lake City Utah didn’t get that memo.
On Tuesday school officials at Uintah Elementary determined that the parents of 40 students were behind on school lunch payments. However, instead of holding off until they cleared up the bills with parents Utah State Nutrition officials went into the cafeteria, singled out the kids and snatched the lunches out of the hands of 40 students, some of whom were still standing in line with their trays. School officials then proceeded to throw out all of the student’s lunches, and gave them all a milk carton and a piece of fruit instead. Mind you, all of this was done during the middle of lunch with every other kid and teacher in the school watching.
Now I don’t know about these kids in Uintah but if their school lunch situation is anything like mine was, 1st – 4th lunch is THE most important hour of the day. That’s where all the action happens, notes get passed, drama starts up, break-ups happen everything. If it’s going down, it’s going down during lunch. So it’s almost impossible the imagine the social and class humiliation these kids had to suffer, at the hands of adults, as their lunches were taken away and they were treated like thieves because their parents owed money to the school. And let’s be honest, school district spokesperson Jason Olsen claims that the “Take-and-Toss” method was necessary because once a meal has been served to students it can’t be taken back or served to anyone else, but there was another motive behind this debacle. The school had every intention of embarrassing these students in order to pressure their parents to pay up. Shame is a pretty powerful motivator, unfortunately the people suffering are kids who had no idea what was going on with their parent’s bills. Now that the Uintah Elementary story is being covered by 24 hour news networks the school district is running around trying to cover their backside by offering lame apologies and vowing to work with parents in the future, but spokesman Olsen won’t discount using “Take-and-Toss” method again if parent’s haven’t paid up.
Utah’s 2nd Congressional district is pretty well off, and Uintah Elementary School is ranked 6th in the state and yet still 16% of kids under the age of 18 in the district are living in poverty. Some of those kids are right there in that elementary school and were just shown in no uncertain terms that a few missing dollars here and there are worth more than their self-esteem, health and ability to concentrate. The firestorm surrounding this school’s behavior will probably cost somebody a job and get them to be on their best behavior for a few months, but the Uintah incident should also be a wake-up call for the rest of the country. A decent meal, one decent meal a day, is as important to a child’s education as books, competent teachers and a safe school. And if any school district is dedicated to educating America’s future snatching lunch out of kids mouths should be the last thing on any teacher’s mind.
This article originally appeared online at The Source.