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Middle School Forces Hungry Students to Throw Out Their Lunches When They Couldn't Pay

Just five cents of “debt” on a pre-paid card led cafeteria employees at Coehio Middle School to tell their pre-teen debtors to go hungry.
 
 
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Photo Credit: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

 

School lunch is often the only reliable meal for many of our country’s poor youths. But rather than make the school cafeteria a safe space for struggling students, one Massachusetts middle school forced kids with negative pre-paid lunch accounts to learn a lesson in frugality; just five cents of “debt” on a pre-paid card led cafeteria employees at Coehio Middle School to tell their pre-teen debtors to dump out the food they would have normally eaten and go hungry. About 25 students left the cafeteria with empty bellies, the company that runs the cafeteria said in a statement.

Needless to say, parents were outraged by what one mother decsribed as “bullying” and “neglect,” and “child abuse.” But the principal of Coehio Middle School deflected responsibility to Whitson’s, the private company that runs the cafeteria.  "My expectation is that every child, every adult, every parent, every student, every teacher is respected in this building, and that didn't happen yesterday because of Whitson's," he told WJAR.

Whitson's apologized and said it has no policy to deny meals to in-debted children, adding that that it has no policy at all for what employees should do if a child cannot pay for lunch.

"Employees had taken it upon themselves to institute this change; it was not condoned or approved," said Whitson spokeswoman Holly Von Seggern. "We had absolutely no idea."  But the principal, who said Whitson employees work on a contract, maintains that Whitson’s made the call to punish youths with low accounts.

If Whitson's is to blame, hopefully the company that supplies 80 schools in New England with lunch meals has learned a lesson.  According to CNN, a negative balance usually lands kids "a cheese sandwich, a fruit and vegetable, and milk” before the company contacts parents about payment.

Kristen Gwynne is an associate editor and drug policy reporter at AlterNet.  Follow her on Twitter: @KristenGwynne

 
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