Probably not even kraft singles…and shame.

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?

This very same thing happens ALL THE TIME.

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.





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37 Responses to Probably not even kraft singles…and shame.

  1. susielindau says:

    Not the lunch ladies!!! They were intimidating. I usually walked home for lunch.
    Seems like we got notes about hot lunches when our kids were in school. I’m sure I forgot to pay on occasion. I’ll have to ask my kids.

  2. I absolutely agree with you that was a shitty and unnecessary way for the school to handle the negative balance. My kids have negative lunch balances all the time- mostly because I don’t get any kind of warning until the balance goes negative. Sometimes it still takes me a few days to remember to fill the account. My kids have never been denied hot lunch- the balance just gets paid off when I do deposit money.

    • That seems like the way a normal human being would handle it. I have no idea how Rockwood could be this backwards and not be able to see that it’s backwards. Thanks, Becky!

  3. bellaball says:

    One of my kids would never tell me if there was no money in his account because he thought I would stress out about not having money to put in it. Funny thing we had the money – I just didn’t know when it was low or none in it or forget to add the money.

  4. TIM MILLER says:

    This is beyond unacceptable. I don’t even have the words to tell you how this makes me feel. I am sure that you handled it much more tastefully than I would of…

    Stay Positive, My Friend.

    • Thanks, Tim. I was pretty aggravated and made it clear in my written correspondence, which is maybe why I wasn’t getting any satisfaction. They don’t know me, so they might think I’m a psychopath based solely on my emails. We’re still at it though.

  5. It seems like they are using the kids as pawns to prod the parents. Wouldn’t the truly poor kids qualify for a free lunch program? I would guess this happens mostly to kids whose parents forget to add funds the their accounts. It seems like there should be a better way to remind you without putting your kid in the middle.
    But do they really serve french dip at Ace’s school, Don? Things sure have changed since our days of chunks of random meat out of a huge can on top of powdered potatoes.

  6. OfficerNotSoFriendly says:

    I can only compare Brother Don’s experience to what I know from personal experience. My kid now goes to Kirkwood Public Schools & I attended Houston Public Schools & St. Louis Public Schools. Kirkwood School District’s food service company doesn’t go all Gordon Gekko on a kid for having a new negative account. Kirkwood seems to at least try to properly balance the socialist & capitalist yin & yan that plagues local American society. Being a Goldilocks sized municipality, having money, & being forced to confront societal problems with relatively recent violent conflicts, has no doubt made Kirkwood a stronger, better community… albeit at a very expensive cost of life & dinero. On the other end, if old Ace went to my alma maters in the Houston or St. Louis Public School systems there are so many kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch (like I did) that she would be part of the majority… So it would be a little cooler to be the cheese sandwich kid. I would implore Ace to have a Norma Rae / Che Guevara moment in the lunch room. It would no doubt cause her further embarrassment in the now, but when she looks back from her future college years she’ll think, “I was one bad ass cheese sandwich sister!”

  7. Those damn lunch ladies don’t even have to cook anymore. They’re glorified “reheaters” and must miserable with their lot in life. This has happened to my son at his large school in WA state, but never at the smaller schools here in Kansas.

  8. Daddy Dave says:

    The lunch lady isn’t the problem, the policy is. Don’t like the policy? Do some work to change it. Research how other districts handle this situation and take your ideas to a school board meeting.

    • Yeah, I expect more from the district. I told the superintendent that I didn’t envy his having to find a better way to meet the needs of the taxpayers with the kids and the parents, but I don’t get paid $250,000 to do so, and he does. He’s actually on it though and I think he’s sincere. The lunch lady is an adult, and I don’t think it’s too much for an adult to recognize that taking lunch from the hands of a school kid is probably not acceptable.

  9. Time for a letter to the editor. Inhuman morons and stupid policies should be shamed, not sweet middle-schoolers.

  10. Mary says:

    We were fortunate enough that our school districts lunch account system had an electronic notification on it when the account was getting low, so I believe we were spared the humiliation of such a scene, but it happens daily. Middle school is such a tough time for kids. The school districts spend time and money on anti-bullying yet tolerate (over look) that same behavior by it’s own people….at our former elementary school the recess monitors yell at the kids. The school board president and the head of the teachers union have bullied the district for years. Not only has it been tolerated by administration, it has been enabled. And school districts wonder why the parents (and other taxpayers) don’t trust them. They’ve earned it in some respects. Tell Ace to hang on….middle school won’t last forever. It will just feel that way……

  11. klawrn says:

    I disagree with the guy above: The lunch lady IS THE PROBLEM. Dad should ask for a meeting with her and her supervisor. Dad should calmly and politely demand an apology. Lunch lady will make excuses and resist apology. The next kid she humiliates is not going to be as confident as Ace or not have a daddy to stick up for her.
    Here is another Daddy who went to battle for his child. I think his name is Handshaw.

  12. klawrn says:

    Two more points (no one else ever asked my opinion, sorry to flood your space):
    1. It seems to me that often, people who deal with kids (or the elderly or the afflicted) don’t treat their charges like people. If you are a reasonable person, you should point this out to said asshat. I have personal experience here.
    2. Dads STILL, IN THIS DAY AND AGE, have much more pull with the adults in kid’s daily life. I’m talking about school, pediatrician ‘s, day camp, etc. Moms have spent millennia trying to take care of the lunch ladies of the kid world, only to be labeled hysterical or overly sensitive. When a dad does this dirty work, it’s been my experience, that shit gets done. Thanks for the vent.

  13. Elyse says:

    No, you’re not overreacting. There are kids who would be totally crushed by this occurrence — even if your daughter luckily wasn’t. When my son was young I did forget sometimes. He was always fed, and I always paid up. I think this is part and parcel of the disparaging anybody who doesn’t have as much …

  14. kc says:

    You are so not overreacting. The same thing happened to my kid because I was on a business trip when my son ran out of money in his account. Granted I should have checked his account, but I did not expect him to run through the money until closer to the end of the year. Ended up he was buying multiple treats, and sometimes multiple lunches a day because one of his friends was a “cheese sandwich” kid and he didn’t like that so he would buy her lunch for her. At the end of the day, MY FAULT, not his. It is my responsibility as his parent to ensure he has lunch money and no one should ever make him feel less than when I am a human and fail at this parenting gig…it pisses me off when adults treat children like that.

    • That’s another issue. The elementary school let’s my 5 year old buy snacks and things that they HAVE to know no reasonable adult would let their 5 year old eat for lunch. All on the “credit” we have in his account! It’s heavenly for him…FREE ICE CREAM! Anyway, I digress. The fault is totally with us as parents, and the school should recognize that and feel free to do what they have to do to get money from us without bringing the kids into this at all.

  15. Ellen says:

    Many years ago a school board person at the elementary catholic school my son attended decided that he was going to make an announcement at a school assembly stating those children whose parents had not paid tuition. My son was one of those children. However I had paid his tuition. So I went to the rectory office to find out what was going on. When the senior priest heard my story he became apoplectic with rage, which gave me some satisfaction however the damage had been done. My son was humiliated at a school assembly and nothing could or would repair his feelings. I’m just glad that he was a tough enough kid afterwards to let it roll off his back. These things happen. I’m not excusing it, but I’ll bet your daughter stands a little straighter knowing her dad went to bat for her. Sometimes that’s enough. ❤

  16. Lizzi says:

    You’re not overreacting IN THE LEAST! It’s horrific and I’m glad you’re making a fuss. I hope you make more of a fuss. I hope other parents and carers join you in making a fuss and I hope you all kick their humiliation regime to the curb. How DARE they!

    • NObody seems to understand why I’m so pissed off about this, probably because it hasn’t happened to their kid. I honestly wasn’t that pissed off about it either when my wife told me about it. It wasn’t until I watched Ace talk about it that I realized it really did embarrass her, and that’s what set me off.

      • Lizzi says:

        Too right! It should never, EVER have been taken out on her. As you say, it was your responsibility and also NOT A BIG DEAL! Like, really not…if only it had been managed appropriately.

  17. Mark Brownfield says:

    Write Don, write! Tell the tale on the stupid, vain, and incompetent with your unusual depth of balance and piercing insight. When police work is behind you, write, write,, write! You’re gifted in ability and the wisdom of we common folk. You have much to say and the soul to say it it. Never be quiet. Many Blessings.

  18. julie says:

    Absolutely not over reacting! I believe it’s called loving your children, and never wanting anything even slightly disturbing to happen to them.

  19. Matt. says:

    This happened to my daughter’s friend when she was in 6th grade (she’s in 8th now): no money, food dumped in garbage, embarrassment. This is in a school where 60% of students are on reduced or free lunch. My daughter came home and recounted the tale and then confessed, “Sorry, dad, but I totally flipped my s**t”. (I blame my wife!) Short story is she bought the girl’s lunch, “maybe yelled at the lunch lady a little”, and then went to the principal’s office to complain. To the principal’s credit he fixed the problem because I tested it later on letting my daughter’s account get to -$10 before refilling it again. She never mentioned any drama to me, but maybe the lunch lady was just afraid of her.

    Ultimately, this IS a policy issue, not a lunch lady issue. They’re just trying keep a low paying job that puts them at the mercy of 6th graders that will yell at them when they mess up. (okay, that one’s probably my fault)

  20. Sera says:

    It happens in my school district. Depending on the school, the lunch ladies either make a huge deal of it or they quietly swap the lunch for the cheese sandwich. It isn’t ideal. It’s all connected to funding. Luckily, the ones at my daughter’s school know her, and I am signed up for notifications anytime her account drops below $10. Additionally, she packs her lunch most of the time so it’s often not an issue. If someone did to her what they did to yours, she would have burst into tears, as she is easily embarrassed and very empathetic. And like you, I’d have been pissed off.

    However..they pay these women maybe $8 an hour, a four or five-hour shift. Most don’t stay for a whole school year rotation. They don’t expect much out of them, and there isn’t much training or personality checking involved. Regardless, they should treat the kids like human beings. In some schools..they don’t. Keep pushing, because at least in THIS area..the loudest screams get the fastest results.

    Round up your friends and use the “3 min” they give the public to speak at a school board meeting. It may not seem like much, but it’s something.

  21. markbialczak says:

    You are not overreacting, Don. The school has to find a better way to keep all the kids getting the hot lunch with no shame. And Ace deserves an apology from the bully lunch lady who threw her lunch out.

  22. Mark L Brownfield says:

    New Mexico just outlawed “Lunch Shaming”. One down, 49 to go.

  23. Sarah says:

    My mom has been a lunch lady for over 15 years. She is the nicest lady I know and growing up she worked at my high school. I know someone who works in the kitchen at Rockwood and she said they were just following the rules. Lunch ladies are not mean. It’s ridiculous to think they are. They are just paid employees who cook food for the kids. They have bosses just like everyone else. They can get in trouble. This is the most over-dramatized story I have seen in a long time. I’m sure you’re kid was embarrassed, but at that age, everything is embarrassing. I’m all for sticking up for your kids when it counts, but they have to be prepared for life too. I get maybe questioning the policy, but going to the press and everything is just ridiculous. These things happen. Maybe when she gets older she will forget her wallet and not be able to pay. Is she going to break down or just move on?

    • I get that you’re offended that you feel your mom’s dedication to her job or kids is being called into question, but I assure you that it’s not. I get that there are terrible people in every profession, right along with the great ones. I won’t ever make excuses for sticking up for any of my kids, and I have no respect for any person who can’t see the ridiculousness of this whole situation. The school district was called out on a policy that not only causes unnecessary embarrassment to the kids they serve, but is fiscally unsound. There is no excuse for throwing perfectly good food into a trash can instead of using it. None. If you can’t see what’s not right about these policies, then I suggest you try to put yourself in the place of a 12 year old child, or better yet, talk to one who this has happened to. That’s what it took for me to appreciate that there needs to be a better way.

      If my daughter forgets her wallet at work one day, she will borrow money from a coworker or a friend, or make arrangements to drive home to get her wallet or do something else I’m sure. That’s what grown ups do. Surely, you can see that a kid doesn’t have those options? They are not allowed to share food or ask other students for money. This isn’t about my daughter or sons anyway. This is about the kids who depend on that one or two meals at school to literally survive. Maybe you don’t know what poverty is, but I’ve worked long enough as a STL cop to have seen little ones I know suffer at home and need to eat more than a cheese sandwich at school. Schools can do better by those kids. I’ll pay higher taxes to make that happen.

      Also – I most certainly didn’t reach out to any media outlets. They found me, thanks.

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