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School Only Serves Cheese Sandwiches to Kids with Lunch Debts

The Short of It

An Indiana high school chose to serve plain cheese sandwiches to students with debts on their lunch accounts, but it has suspended the policy after being taken to task on social media for embarrassing the kids. But were they really wrong?

The Lowdown

When I was growing up, you either came to the cafeteria with enough money in your pocket to buy the school lunch or you didn't. Which meant if you forgot your cash on any given day, you were going to go hungry.

But advancements in technology have changed the game. At many schools across the country, kids don't have to remember to bring lunch money in anymore thanks to computerized "accounts" that track their purchases and balances. The burden then falls on the parents to make sure those accounts remain flush.

So what happens if you reach the front of the lunch line only to find out that the balance in your account has zeroed out? At one Indiana high school, you get a plain old cheese sandwich.

The policy is apparently part of an effort at Kokomo High School to get families to pay off their lunch account debts. The school notified families about the change at the end of last year, but they've already suspended the effort after student Sierra Feiti drew unwanted attention to it by posting a picture of the cheese sandwich served to a classmate on Facebook.

"If you owe $25 or more on your lunch account, this is what Kokomo provides you for lunch," she wrote. "Two slices of bread and two slices of cheese. Absolutely mortifying. My heart goes out to the kids that I go to school with that get their only meal a day at school."

After the post started going viral—landing Feiti a spot on The Today Show—the district suspended the policy and apologized for offending anyone. But in a statement, it defended the need for the new rule, pointing out that 499 students carry debts on their lunch accounts, and only about 10 percent of those accounts are from low-income families who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

"Some of these people on the list, I'm sorry, are making $100,000 a year," said David Barnes, the communications director for Kokomo School Corporation. "Family of four, and have a debt over $100. I'm sorry, those people need to pay their bills."

The district says the total credit on lunch accounts has put Kokomo $50,000 in debt, putting it at risk for losing federal funding.

The Upshot

I'm torn about this story. On the one hand, I love the fact that Feiti took a stand for someone else. Her post drew tons of "you go, girl!" type comments on social media, including one parent who wrote, "I cannot see the point of embarrassing a child."

I can't either. But on the other hand, what's so embarrasing about receiving a free lunch? Kokomo could have chosen to deny the students any food at all. Instead, they gave them gratis cheese sandwiches and now they're been taken to task for it.

Shouldn't we be placing the blame on the parents for ignoring their debts instead? Tell us what you think!

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