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School Tosses Girl's Lunch Over $1 Debt

A mother in New York is demanding answers after her daughter's lunch was taken from her and thrown in the garbage at school.

Emma Keller is a fifth-grader at Mill Middle School. At lunch time, Emma ordered tacos and began walking toward her table when suddenly her food was taken away by the cafeteria staff and tossed in the trash, according to WKBW.

They gave her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to eat in place of the tacos.

"I was kind of confused of why it was happening and I didn't know what was going on," Emma told WKBW.

It turns out that Emma's tacos were confiscated because she had a balance of about one dollar on her meal program account.

Emma is enrolled in a reduced-cost meal program designed to make lunch more affordable for low-income families. Usually, her meals at school are free. However, since she owed the school less than a dollar, she was no longer permitted to order hot lunches.

"I had my lunch taken away from me because I didn't pay 75 cents," Emma said.

Emma's mother, Molly Lafferty, was outraged.

"They'll take it and throw it out in front of her and in front of her classmates? It's humiliating," Lafferty said. "You can't do things like that to kids."

"I felt so out of the loop as a parent," she added. "I just wanted to fix it and I couldn’t. The damage had already been done."

As for why the tacos were actually thrown in the garbage, the school explained that once food has been served to one person, it cannot be given to someone else.

"Similar to restaurants, health regulations do not allow food to be reused after it has been served," a spokesperson wrote to WKBW.

And while they declined to answer questions regarding Emma's individual experience, they did offer details about the meal program.

"An elementary or middle school student who requests a lunch and does not have the money can charge a maximum of three meals," the spokesperson explained. "If the student does not bring in the money, on the fourth charge, their choices for lunch will be PB&J or cheese sandwich with milk."

Lafferty has some words of advice for her fellow parents.

"If your children are on free or reduced meals and you fill out that application at the beginning of the year and you haven't heard back, check with the school," she cautioned.

In 2015, Mill Middle School was ranked the ninth best middle school in western New York, according to WIVB. Over 190 schools were included in the list.

Sources: WKBW, WIVB / Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr

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