School Sparks Controversy With Lunch Line Incentive Program That Penalizes Students With Bad Grades

| by Jonathan Constante
cafeteria workers serving school lunchescafeteria workers serving school lunches

Parents at a middle school in Tampa, Florida, are calling for a change in policy after learning that students with lower grades have to go to the back of the lunch line.

Woodrow Wilson Middle School rewards its students for achievement and improvement with incentive cards, WTVT reported. Incentive cards allow students to go to the front of the lunch line.

The kids in the back are sometimes referred to as the “no-card kids.”

“The no-card kids either have a 'C' or a conduct issue,” parent Sonya Brown told WTVT. “They eat last.”

Brown said she believes the school should offer incentives for students who excel but not when it comes to the lunch line. She added that the incentive cards should be limited to free admission to sporting events, or homework passes instead. Her daughter Celia and Celia's classmate Alyssa Crocker brought the issue to her attention.

(Middle school's incentive card. Photo Credit: WTVT)

“Everyone knows that they're in line because they got a ‘C,’” Alyssa, an eighth-grader at Woodrow Wilson said. “Like, it's not private at all. And it's really embarrassing for them, I think.”

Alyssa said the kids in the back of the line only get 10 minutes to eat some days. She added that they are mostly from poorer families.

”We could be putting the kids who need to be eating most at school and only giving them 10 minutes,” Celia said.

Principal Colleen Faucett told WTVT that she will make sure all students are given enough time to eat. She also defended the incentive cards, saying the program is meant to motivate students.

A petition was started on to change the lunch line incentive. The petition, which is entitled “Immediate Termination of Woodrow Wilson Middle School Lunch Line Procedure,” states that “lining up students in different groups for lunch based on their academic achievement or lack thereof,” is “unfair, discriminatory as applied, and violates a student’s right to privacy.”

The petition was posted on Dec. 13, and it has garnered more than 850 signatures as of Dec. 16.

One user wrote on the petition site:

“I had two children go through Wilson and am still planning to send my third. The lowest performing ‘no card kids’ are seen as less valuable and the highest performing children are publicly reminded of their superiority on a daily basis.

“The ‘no card kids’ are almost exclusively kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds who have little support at home ... I’m glad that someone is finally asking for this issue to be addressed! I am actually kind of shocked that this is even being discussed. How could an educator think that any motivation derived from shaming a child…would somehow outweigh the harm?"

A student on the site, claiming to be a "no-card kid," wrote:

“Everyone knew that I did not ‘academically achieve.’ It should be no one else’s business what my grades were. Lunch is NOT an incentive, it’s a normal part of everyone’s life.

“From my personal experience of being in the no card line, I only got about 10 to 15 minutes to eat. In that time, teachers/administrators expect you to use your lunch period as your time to take care of your bathroom needs, or your time to socialize.

“With 10 minutes, you only have time to briskly eat. I am disgusted that this policy is still in use and I am hopeful that this year will be the first time in a long time to not have to use ridiculous cards to be able to eat lunch.”

According to a recent update on the petition's website page, Faucett has suspended the lunch line incentive for the rest of the school year to “reassess current procedures” and  “to determine ways to improve our system.”

Sources: WTVT, Yahoo News, / Photo credit: Sarah Gilbert/Flickr, Facebook/Woodrow Wilson Middle School