The issues of school lunch debt and lunch shaming never seem to be far from the news lately – on one day in late January, for example, we found stories about a Rotary Club in Crossville, Tennessee, paying off $3,500 in school lunch debt at Cumberland County public schools; a story about high school students in Radcliff, Kentucky, raising money to pay down their classmates’ lunch debt; a story about a new New Jersey state law to end the practice of lunch-shaming, which is when students with lunch debt are served partial meals; and a story on commondreams.org asking, “Why Do We Have School Lunch Debt at All?”
Good question. And while we are at it, why are 9-R schools in Durango still racking up student lunch debt and still, as a matter of stated policy, shaming indebted students by serving them a partial lunch?
We only discovered they were doing it eight months ago; until then, we assumed it was the usual full-priced parade of hot dogs and chicken patties for everyone. But then Robyn Baxendale, a teacher at Miller Middle School, saw a sign at Miller that said students who owed $8 or more to the cafeteria should “Be prepared for partial lunches from here until the end of the school year!”
A partial lunch consists of a cheese stick or a granola bar, and fruit, according to the 9-R website: “Once a student incurs three full meal charges and the account becomes negative, the student may not receive a meal from the cafeteria line, but instead may receive a partial lunch ... at the fee of $1.25 ... You will be responsible to pay costs incurred through receipt of partial meals.”
It sounds like a throwback to a Dickensian poorhouse.
Baxendale held a fundraiser that paid off the $633 Miller debt. For her trouble, 9-R’s administration said it was unnecessary, which did not seem to be true, and that it was “negatively casted.”
Is calling attention to 9-R not giving every student a full lunch being too negative? Even while raising the money so every student could have a full lunch, at least until the debt accumulated again? Of course not. We were hopeful when the school board said it was looking into this, in May; and then, crickets.
In October, when longtime incumbent Stephanie Moran faced off against newcomer Kristin Smith for a seat on the 9-R board, we asked each of them about the district’s partial lunch policy. Moran said she did not realize that was still the district’s policy, although the board had not rescinded it. She said she wanted to see every student given a full lunch, “because that’s part of keeping students safe.” We concur. Smith, the victor, was on the same page, saying she wanted to see all students’ nutritional needs met.
But it has been three months, and still nothing has been done.
We recently asked school board President Shere Byrd if the board planned to fix this and she said the policy is under the jurisdiction of the superintendent. We think this is the board’s responsibility.
Lunch debt may be far from the most important issue before 9-R. Yet it is precisely because this is small and can be fixed that the board and the district should stop dragging their feet and do the right thing.
And then they should trumpet it.