Texas School Districts Offer Array of Solutions to Students Without Lunch Money

| by Lina Batarags

The mother of a student at Marshall Middle School in Texas has complained that on two occasions, when her daughter’s lunch account displayed insufficient funds, cafeteria workers dumped her food off her tray and into a garbage can.

The middle school student was then provided with a cold sandwich and milk instead.

“She has come home starving to death because she didn’t have enough money in her account,” Michelle Bass said in a phone interview on Friday. “It’s embarrassing for me as a parent.”

These occurrences seem to challenge what should be happening during the school’s lunch hour. According to Joanna Genuardi, child nutrition director of Beaumont ISD, the district Marshall Middle School is in, the district has a policy to feed al l students “regardless of the amount of money in their accounts.”

“We have many students whose only meal they get is at school,” Genuardi stated.

In another case reported from a Texas middle school, Jennifer Castilleja said that her 12-year-old son was denied breakfast because his account was 30 cents short. When Castilleja told the school she would come in pay, she was told she would have to pay before her child was allowed to receive the school breakfast.

“There were kids all around him,” Castilleja said, adding that he “may have been a little embarrassed and upset and, of course, hungry.”

In situations where a student picks out food, only to realize that they cannot pay for it afterwards, health code regulations forbid cafeteria workers from simply handing out that same food to another student; instead, it must be disposed of.

Distric 22 State Rep. Joe Deshotel has suggested that as a solution to this problem, cash registers be moved to the front of the line. Thus, each student’s account balance would be determined before he/she touched any food.

Others schools in other districts have different policies when it comes to students purchasing lunches.

Some schools allow students to charge lunch to their accounts several times, before their lunches are tossed away, and are instead replaced with milk and “a cold sandwich – sometimes cheese or peanut butter and jelly.”

Another school system operates on a no-charge policy: if students don’t have lunch money, they must throw away the food they stood in line for, and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead.

Yet other schools have put teachers in charge of monitoring elementary school students’ accounts before lunchtime, thus helping students and workers alike determine which students will be receiving altnernate meals that day.

Superintendent Mark Porterie said that students of the Port Author ISD don’t have to worry about having sufficient lunch money, because every student receives free breakfast and lunch thanks to a national free lunch program.

While different school districts have different methods of regulating account balances and distributing meals, one fact remains solidly indisputable.

As Joe Deshotel put it, “Throwing away food doesn’t seem to solve the problem. It wastes food and embarrasses the kid.”


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