The Salt Lake City School District has issued an apology to approximately 40 students and their parents after a cafeteria worker refused to let students have their lunches due to lack of funds in their accounts. News of the cafeteria workers actions angered parents nationwide and left many asking how in the United States of America, a public school would actually take food away from children, throw it into a trash can, then expect the children to continue their day. Students who didn’t have enough money for meals in their accounts were given a piece of fruit and milk, so that the children wouldn’t go hungry. Most parents would readily agree that a piece of fruit and milk hardly qualifies as a substantial lunch.
After a nationwide outcry regarding the school worker’s actions, the Salt Lake City School District released the following statement on their official Facebook page. You may read the statement in its entirety below.
“Dear patrons and Uintah Elementary parents,
We have been investigating the lunch situation at Uintah Elementary School and would like to share the following information.
On Monday, a district Child Nutrition manager was sent to Uintah Elementary School to investigate the large number of students who had zero or negative balances in their school lunch accounts. That same day, the district manager and the local school kitchen manager started making calls to inform parents of the negative balances.
On Tuesday, the calls to parents continued. When lunch time came, students who still had negative balances were told they could not have a full meal but were given a piece of fruit and a milk for lunch. The district does this so children who don’t have money for lunch can at least have some food and not go without.
Unfortunately, children are served lunch before they get to the computer for payment. The children who didn’t have enough money in their accounts had their normal food trays taken from them and were given the fruit and milk.
This situation could have and should have been handled in a different manner. We apologize.
We are also investigating what type of notification parents may or may not have received prior to this week. The schools says they inform students when they go through the lunch line if they have a low balance. They say they also send notes home in the student’s Monday folders. However, when contacted Monday or Tuesday, many parents were surprised by the news. The district has specific guidelines for school kitchen managers on how parents should be notified, and we are currently investigating to see if these guidelines were followed correctly.
We understand the feelings of upset parents and students who say this was an embarrassing and humiliating situation. We again apologize and commit to working with parents in rectifying this situation and to ensuring students are never treated in this manner again.”
While the statement attempts to understand how embarrassing the situation was for students who didn’t have enough money in their accounts, one can only truly guess how humiliating the experience was for a child to stand in front of an entire classroom-worth of students and have their food thrown away because they didn’t have enough money. In an age where school-place bullying has resulted in an epidemic of suicides, the fact that adults hired by the school were responsible for these actions is unacceptable.
The Salt Lake City School District followed the post with another statement that reads, “Dear Patrons,
The Uintah Elementary School cafeteria manager and her supervisor have been placed on paid leave while our investigation continues. Once our investigation is complete, we will post an update for all concerned.”
It’s important to realize that the cafeteria manager and supervisor have not been fired, but instead continues their investigation.
How any public school worker could think it was appropriate to take food away from children, humiliate them publicly, and throw the food away was the acceptable course of action is astounding.
CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield spoke with Lisa Bloom about the legality of the issue. Bloom responded with the following statement, “It is less of a legal issue. I don't think anybody is going to sue over the cost of a lunch. It is more of a teachable moment. This is a great opportunity for the adults to say to the kids, we made a mistake.
“Just like you made mistakes, we made a mistake. Here's what we learned. It is wrong to throw away food. It is wrong to make kids go hungry, especially when they didn't do anything wrong. We made a bad decision in the moment. We are really sorry I think that would be a great way to approach it. Let the kids know everybody makes mistakes.”
What do you think? Do you agree with Bloom that this should be a “teachable moment” or do you think the cafeteria manager and the supervisor should be fired?
You may see a video report about this incident above, including an interview with fifth grade student Sophia Isom who was one of the children humiliated by having her lunch taken away and thrown in the garbage.