An online petition asking the Durango School District 9-R board to end its policy of serving partial lunches to students with cafeteria debt has garnered more than 900 signatures.
The petition posted on change.org asks the district to ensure all students receive full meals and partner with community members, businesses and nonprofits to ensure funding to cover lunch debts is raised. The document also asks the district to communicate with parents about lunch debt to ensure students are not humiliated or shamed by lunch debt.
9-R parent and petition author Jessica Obleton said hundreds of signatures provide “solid footing” to ask the board to revise its policy. She said she expects to present the petition to the board Feb. 25.
“Nobody wants to see kids going hungry,” she said.
The district’s lunch debt rules say students who have not paid for three or more meals will receive a piece of fruit and a cheese stick or granola bar, according to the district’s website.
Durango 9-R Board President Shere Byrd said a partial lunch has not been served since last spring and district staff members work to accommodate families that have trouble paying for meals.
“We believe that students do better when they are fed,” she said.
But if the district agreed to cover lunch debt, parents who are capable of paying for school lunches would take advantage of the system, she said.
“I think the district is by far and away very sympathetic. ... Up to a point where we are just being taken advantage of,” she said.
If the district paid the lunch costs for all of its students, it would cost an additional $600,000 per year, or about 10 teachers, 9-R spokeswoman Julie Popp said.
The petition does not ask the district to pay for all student lunches, but rather to work with the community to raise funds to pay off lunch debt and ensure kids are not humiliated by receiving a partial lunch, Obleton said.
Providing students with a full meal ensures they can focus and function well in class, she said.
Obleton supports collecting debt from parents who are capable of paying their debts, but those efforts should not involve students, she said.
Former 9-R educator Robyn Baxendale raised concerns about the partial lunch policy last spring when a sign was posted by Miller Middle School, informing students they would be served partial lunches.
Baxendale said she was pleased to see support for changing the partial-lunch policy because she observed middle school students go without lunch rather than receive a partial one.
“I think it’s super unethical and potentially psychologically damaging to withhold or threaten to withhold food from kids,” she said.
Current 9-R lunch debts have been paid off by residents who donated about $3,000 to the school district after Obleton posted concerns on Facebook on Jan. 24, Obleton said. In the long term, Obleton would like to see a fund set up to cover lunch debt through a formal nonprofit, she said.
The petition can be found by visiting change.org and searching for Durango School District 9-R school lunch.