There was a Peanuts strip once in which Charlie Brown told Linus that shoes squeak because they haven’t been paid for. “Do you mean to tell me that just because my dad hasn’t paid his bill I have to walk around in squeaky shoes?” Linus implored.
We have tried to make plain for some time now that we would like to see the 9-R school district end the practice of lunch shaming, whereby students whose parents are in slight arrears on meal payments are served a partial lunch consisting of a cheese stick or a granola bar, and fruit. We wrote about this again not long ago, imploring the 9-R board to finally address and fix it (“It’s time to give every Durango student a full midday meal,” Jan. 24).
Now, concerned citizens have gone to bat for it. They determined that as of Jan. 24, lunch debt for the entire district was $2,629, they said, and, within two weeks, they had paid it off, comprising some generous donations. But they also realized the debt would start accumulating again the next day if more was not done – and by Feb. 11, 9-R said it was back up to about $1,300.
On Sunday, Jessica Obleton posted a petition at change.org, “Remove partial meal policy in Durango School District 9R.” It calls on the school board to change the district policies and regulations that make lunch-shaming possible in Durango.
By Monday morning, the petition had almost 800 signatures, along with many signers’ statements. This one is typical: “This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! It’s not a child’s fault their parents can’t afford school lunch.”
By the time the school board convened for a work session Tuesday, it had more than 1,700 signatures. On Wednesday, it was more than 1,900. Deep into Tuesday evening, the board conceded that the policy and practice should be ended.
The administration claimed it had the policy because it was part of a federal policy. That policy, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has been changed, said Kristin Smith, the most recently-elected member of the board (which now has four).
The administration countered that it is still a state policy.
There is no state policy that compels administrators to do something this wrong – and even if there were, it would not supersede the direction of the school board to stop it.
“If the kind of language that is objectionable to our constituents isn’t required, let’s see if we can craft it in a different sort of way,” board President Shere Byrd said at the meeting.
That may not be change, but it is progress.
The 9-R board will meet Feb. 25, when Obleton and other constituents will be able to present their petition, and their requests, which are a bit more than some re-crafting.
In the next 10 days, however, we expect 9-R administrators will be able to end lunch-shaming on their own – in deed, word and policy – and present the result to everyone. That is, we are confident they will if they wish to preserve an important difference between educators and debt collectors.