Worldwide Discussion:

Some 30 to 40 children at Uintah Elementary School in Salt Lake City were told as they came to the end of the cafeteria line last Tuesday that they could not have their lunch because their parents did not have enough money in their school account.

The children’s lunches were taken out of their hands and thrown into the garbage, according to a report from CNN affiliate KSLStudents and parents reported the incident, and school officials confirmed the astonishing events.

Parents pay for school lunches by placing money in their child’s school lunch account, officials explained, and if the account runs dry, the school cannot provide the child lunch.

A fifth-grader name Sophia was met by a school district nutrition manager, she said, who took her lunch and threw it away and told her to “go get a milk.” When the child asked what was going on, she said she was handed an orange and told: “You don’t have any money in your account, so you can’t have lunch.”

The lunch was thrown away because once it is on a tray carried by a student, it can’t be retrieved and given to someone else, but must be discarded, cafeteria employees later confirmed.

More than 30 children faced this experience at Uintah Elementary School on Tuesday, all of told in front of other students and staff that because their parents hadn’t kept their accounts paid up, they were having their lunches taken away.

Some students and school staff members were reportedly in tears over the incident, the KSL news story said.

Two Utah state senators who visited the school on Thursday said that the employee responsible for taking the action against the children should be fired if found after due process to have acted as it has been reported—and as school officials have confirmed—because that person “used (their) power to humiliate and embarrass children.”

But it isn’t the first or only time such a thing has happened in U.S. public schools, according to a story on Jan. 30 by Annie-Rose Strasser for the website Think Progress.

“In November, a Texas middle school student’s lunch was thrown away because he was 30 cents short on payment,” the news story said.

Strasser’s story goes on to point out that “depriving children of food — and embarrassing them in front of their peers — isn’t the only option. In Boston, for example, public schools provide all students with cost-free breakfast and lunch no matter what their financial situation.”

“Boston is the largest city to participate in a national program called Community Eligibility Option that waives meal fees for all students. It’s also being implemented in Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, and parts of New York City,” a September story at said.

Utah school officials this week did not deny that what students reported last Tuesday is exactly what occurred, and they told students and parents they were sorry. “It was wrong. It should not have happened, and we apologize that it did,” Salt Lake City School District spokesman Jason Olsen said Thursday.

Another way needs to be found to deal with lunch accounts that have fallen to zero, parents, school officials, and state political leaders agree.

It feels to me that in a spiritually evolved society it would be incomprehensible that a child would be denied food for lack of money. Why all school systems don’t do what Boston does is unclear — except that in America’s increasingly “every-man-for-himself, you’re-on-your-own” society, the Boston example may be simply going out of style.

What’s the great American saying? “There’s no free lunch.” Apparently. Not even for a fifth-grader — or a middle school student 30-cents short.

All this, in a world where 85 people hold more wealth than 3.5 billion — half of the rest of the global combined.

Enough, already.


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