Imagine a thirteen year old girl standing in a crowded lunch line at her middle school; she’s holding a tray of hot food in her hands. She is not an unpopular kid, but isn’t what passes for “popular” in the middle school hierarchy either. She’s a perfectly content to get by unnoticed straight A student.
In between glances at her French Dip sandwich and the open spot at the table across the cafeteria that she hopes stays open so she doesn’t have to sit alone or worse, find a seat with kids she doesn’t know very well, she’s thinking about how good her tater tots with ketchup are going to taste. She’s pleased because her sandwich has lots of pickles on it just as she likes and looks bigger than many of the other kids’ sandwiches. She got a lucky draw this time.
While shuffling closer and closer to the cash register, a boy much larger than she is suddenly takes the tray of food from her hands and tells her that there are no more French Dip sandwiches left, so he’s taking hers since it looks the biggest.
Momentarily stunned out of her sandwich and tater tot induced trance, the girl sees that her lunch has been taken by Cliff Jenks, every coach’s favorite athlete, but known as a bully to the kids who couldn’t care less about middle school athletics.
Cliff walks off triumphantly, while the young girl is left in line dejected, hurt that she was the center of attention in a crowded middle school lunch line, and now also faintly aware that her stomach is growling at her, seemingly aware that the French Dip sandwich it had craved just seconds before was now a pipe dream, never to be on this day.
The girl watches, incredulously, as Cliff is walking away towards the seating area when he suddenly says, “Gross, this sandwich has pickles on it!” He turns far enough around to make eye contact with the girl before smirking at her and tossing the rest of the sandwich into a nearby trash can. He took one bite and was done.
Several kids laugh out loud, while many others look away from the girl, uncomfortable with what they just saw but unable to find the right words to make everything “normal” in the lunch line again. Awkwardness among middle-schoolers is palpable.
The girl leaves the lunch serving area empty handed, thankful that the spot near her friends is still open at least. One of her friends has just enough change for the girl to get a bag of chips, and for that she is grateful. She eats her chips for lunch, all the while thinking about how good that hot sandwich would have tasted, and acutely aware, at least in her mind she believes it to be so, that every set of eyes in the cafeteria is watching her eat her chips.
She suddenly can’t wait to be in Spanish class.
Some of you, hopefully, have at least some sympathy for this young lady, right?
Now imagine the same girl in the same scenario, but replace Cliff the bully with the school’s lunch lady.
The girl who was so looking forward to her sandwich approaches the checkout and is suddenly told, “Your account is $2.20 overdrawn. You can’t have a hot school lunch today.”
The lunch lady then grabs the tray full of food from the girl, right in front of all her classmates, and tells her that she is welcome to have a cold American cheese sandwich instead. A cold cheese sandwich and a milk. The girl looks around and is uncomfortable because now she’s holding up the line, and all eyes are on her. Her body doesn’t handle dairy very well, so she declines the generous offer and joins her friends at the far away table, without any food and hungrier now than when she walked into the line.
She’s embarrassed to be today’s “cheese sandwich” kid.
Creating “cheese sandwich kids” is the “unwritten” policy of the middle school where my daughter goes to school. Public schools are subject to open record requests, so there’s a reason this policy is “unwritten” and can’t be found on the school’s website or handbook.
Because it’s asinine and the staff has to know it shames some kids.
All the kids know what’s going on and when they see another child being given a cheese sandwich and milk by the cafeteria staff.
You can almost hear the whispers from the line…
Do you think her family is poor?
I heard her dad lost his job.
I bet his parents are getting divorced.
I heard they live in a trailer park.
For God’s sake, people, why are we allowing our kids to be embarrassed in front of their peers by adults we trust to care for them all day?
Is this a big deal in the great scheme of things?
No, probably not.
It’s not easy to manage funds and make sure all the kids and parents are happy, but whatever the proper way to make sure a school district doesn’t lose money, and that all kids are nourished, should not include embarrassing a child in front of their peers. Not by adults, and not at this age, where kids are so fragile mentally, especially about social aspects of their lives.
When my wife first brought this incident up to me, I really didn’t think anything of it, because it was absolutely our fault that money wasn’t in the account. My kids are well fed at home, so I don’t expect the school to feed them for free when they’re at school.
But when Ace described the way it happened, it was clear that the whole ordeal shook her up at least a little bit, and that got me wound up. The account was literally $2.20 overdrawn. If it can be $2.20 overdrawn, then it can surely be twice that or ten or even one hundred times overdrawn before a child has food taken from her hands and tossed into a trash can right in front of her face.
That’s silly and certainly not fiscally responsible in the least bit.
I’ve asked for an explanation from the school, and have had to even bring in the school district’s superintendent at this point, because I’ve yet to be satisfied that anybody truly cares about this issue.
The district has responded in typical bureaucratic fashion with vague promises to make sure this doesn’t happen again, but has said nothing as to how they are going make that so.
The principal finally talked to my daughter but never asked her what happened or how it made her feel. She told Ace that she looked pretty and that she should tell an adult, if this ever happens again. She also promised that she would buy her lunch, if she’s around and there’s no money in our account.
I appreciate that a woman who makes well over $120,000 a year is offering to buy my daughter’s $3.00 lunch next time we forget to fill her lunch account, but this completely misses the point of my disgust.
I’m upset because adults embarrassed my daughter in front of her peers about finances, a part of our family that she has zero control over. I’m upset because if it happened to Ace, then it happens to other kids too, some of whom are no doubt much more fragile emotionally than my own tough daughter, and she did get upset.
Whether or not there’s money in the account is nobody’s business outside of the parties involved in the transaction, i.e. in our case, the school district and Mr. and Mrs. Donofalltrades.
Nobody else, especially the kids should be brought into the matter, and no child should ever be shamed for the stupidity of their parents.
Ever. Especially at school, where they need to feel safe.
Have you had or heard of similar situations like ours? Am I overreacting?
Do please comment.