Two students at an Idaho middle school had their lunches taken away from them because they didn’t have money in their school lunch accounts.
It happened at the new Victory Middle School in Meridian, Idaho, according to a friend of the two students, reports KTVB.
The friend, sixth-grader Gavin Priest, said, "You have people starving in other places and you're just wasting food and it's just not right. I would definitely be embarrassed. What are they going to eat? They still need food to power through the day."
Gavin speaks from experience, having had his lunch taken away in a similar fashion when he was in first grade.
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"At the end of the day the solution is not taking away food and making kids go hungry," said his father, Chris Priest.
A spokesperson for the West Ada School District, Eric Exline, says taking the students’ lunches away was a mistake caused by the fact that Victory Middle School is new.
As he explained to KTVB, "We put a lot of systems in place to try and prevent the kind of problem we've had at Victory. In this particular case a number of those parts of the system weren't working as Victory was opening."
One problem is that the cash registers were not online, so the parents of the two students did not receive automated calls when their child's account was low.
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The cafeteria layout also contributed to the mistake, Exline contends. "If your cash register comes before the food, which it always does at the elementary but only sometimes works that way at the secondary, that makes it a little bit more difficult to manage.”
According to Exline, elementary school students are allowed three meal charges once their account reaches zero, and middle-school students are allowed two. If there’s still no money in the account after that, the families are offered special assistance.
As Exline explains: "Then they work with the families to say, 'Well you've gotten behind maybe you need some assistance, and maybe we should get you on the free and reduced-lunch program.’”
Exline says that 22 percent of the students in the West Ada School District qualify for that program. "For some kids this is the best meal they get all day," he said. "A hungry child is a distracted child -- they're not prepared for school."
That fact is what led to the National School Lunch Act of 1946, which states:
It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation's children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food, by assisting the States, through grants-in aid and other means, in providing an adequate supply of food and other facilities for the establishment, maintenance, operation and expansion of nonprofit school lunch programs.