Archived Story

District responds to criticism over lunch policies

Published 2:36pm Monday, May 12, 2014

The Dowagiac Union School District has found itself embroiled in controversy, after one of its high school students was denied hot lunch due an outstanding balance on his account earlier this month.

According to the school, on May 1, a junior at Dowagiac Union High School was told by a cafeteria cashier that he would be unable to purchase the lunch served to him because of charge of a around $5 that had yet to be paid off on his account. The student then left the lunchroom to contact his mother, about the incident, and didn’t return until shortly before the end of the lunch period. During that period, an employee threw away his uneaten lunch.

The following day, the student’s mother met with Assistant Principal Kelly Millin to discuss the incident, when she paid off not only her son’s outstanding balance but also those of his classmates, to the tune of around $60.

“She was told that she didn’t have to do that, but she said ‘I don’t want any students to go through what my son did,’” said Superintendent Mark Daniel.

Since then, has created an online petition demanding that district set guidelines in place so that no student can be denied lunch. It has received more than 3,000 signatures from people across the country.

In addition, the incident caused the district to receive hundreds of negative emails and comments, forcing them to take down the district and high school Facebook pages over the weekend.

The school district has unwritten guidelines in place that would allow students to still receive lunch even with a balance on his or her account, Daniel said. Though the district discourages students from doing so, they are allowed to charge a lunch with permission.

“We have historically allowed them to have lunches,” the superintendent said. “Sometimes we ask the student to contact the administrator that is in lunch room, to let them know. A vast majority of the time, 99.9 percent, these students are approved and get their lunch.”

In reviewing the incident, the superintendent and the rest of the administration judged that the cashier, who is an employee with the school’s food service vendor, Sodexo, did not act in a manner contrary to these guidelines, Daniel said.

“I did not see any intent to purposely embarrass, and I don’t see any reason to have any disciplinary action taken,” he said.

In light of the situation, though, the district has decided to formalize and amend the district’s policies in regards to students who cannot pay for meals. The administration met on Monday afternoon to hammer out the details of this policy.

[The incident] caused us to reflect on what we have been doing that would make a student feel humiliated in this kind of situation,” Daniel said.

Among the proposed changes will be to focus on individual students and parents when it comes to eliminating outstanding balances, helping them move into more accommodating lunch programs if necessary. The district will also no longer print out a list of students with outstanding balances for use by Sodexo cashiers, but instead have them displayed electronically to prevent students from potentially seeing it.

The new policy will be posted on the school’s website and Facebook page once it is approved, Daniel said.

“The criticism we have received is quite contrary to what we believe,” Daniel said. “We’re very compassionate. We do everything and anything we can do to help our students.”

The Dowagiac Daily News has reached out to the student’s for comment about the incident.

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  • Rachael Clanton

    I understand about making sure accounts are paid. And although we want to make sure students are getting fed (whether they bring their lunch or eat school lunch), I understand why the student may not have received a school lunch that day–insufficient funds in his account. Yes, it was only $5, yet when there are rules in place, they need to be followed–or else they will be taken advantage of. I understand that. What I don’t understand is why the lunch that was going to be given to the student was thrown away.

    Okay, so the students may pay for their lunch at the end of the line, but what if a student doesn’t know there aren’t enough funds in his or her account? Do all those lunches then get tossed in the garbage? I understand that sanitation and health are important, yet has anyone actually touched the food that now the student is not allowed to eat? If a school district has enough money to throw away a lunch that a student was not allowed to eat, then why is it so worried about $5 in unpaid lunch money?

    Is there a system in place in order for students to know if they have insufficient funds before they get in the lunch line? I understand that you can’t just take I.O.U.s–that would easily get out of hand and hardly, if any, payments would be made. And, if I understand correctly, if a student knows he or she doesn’t have enough money for a lunch, he or she can talk to an administrator and things will be taken care of. But what if the student didn’t know he or she didn’t have enough funds in the account? Couldn’t the student have still received the lunch, the charge added to his account, and a warning given to him that he would not be able to get another school lunch until his account was paid up and his next lunch was purchased? Or, was this student already given a warning?

    I can see many viewpoints in this, but the only thing that doesn’t make much sense about all of this is the fact that the lunch was thrown away. My question is: Why?

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