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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