Friday, April 5, 2013

Massachusetts Middle School Denies Students Lunch

This afternoon, as usual, I read the news while eating lunch at my desk. Most workdays, I do this, searching through yahoo and msn and the New York Times looking for things that catch my eye or that seem interesting, or that make me curious to read more. So when I spotted the headline: "Middle School Students Denied School Lunch," I clicked on the link. The irony, of course, was that I was enjoying a meal of healthy vegetables and sweet potato while I read about how Coelho Middle School in Massachusetts denied lunch to twenty-five children who were unable to pay for their food. According to the article, "students who couldn't pay or who were behind on their pre-paid accounts were flat out denied lunch by an employee of the district's lunch supplier. Some students cried and others were forced to throw their perfectly good food in the garbage when it was determined that they couldn't pay." While the "responsible official" who denied the children food was allegedly put on "administrative leave" (which could mean anything from a few days of spring vacation to a working from home situation, neither of which necessarily means a suspension in pay, only in on-site duties), the school actually said that "[when] students are unable to pay for lunch they should be offered a cheese sandwich and milk."

And it was the "cheese sandwich and milk" comment that actually put me over the edge.

First of all, loading childrens' developing bodies with full fat dairy and white carbs is not a viable solution, it is one more contributing factor to our country's out-of-control obesity epidemic. Second, and more immediately upsetting, "cheese sandwich and milk" is a screaming visual that labels certain children "poor" and "different" and "other than" in the most humiliating way possible. While their money-carrying peers have access to the "normal" school lunches, these already disadvantaged children have the "poor kid" lunches, the "lesser than" foods. And the school has created a perfect set-up for low self-esteem and bullying.

What I don't understand, more than anything, is how an entity that is designed for the sole purpose of working with and supporting and molding children into healthy, functioning adults can make healthy food available to certain children and deny the children who probably need it most, who probably - at least in some cases - aren't getting it at home, what their bodies and minds need in order to grow. To thrive. To succeed.

I don't yet know how I intend to respond to this but I know in my heart that I am at least going to write the school a letter sharing my opinion and offering some reasonable, fair, manageable alternatives to the unacceptable "cheese sandwich and milk." Schools are communities, after all. Why aren't we raising our children to share, or to advocate for their less fortunate peers? As adults - whether teachers or not - why aren't we modelling the compassion and the equality we would like to see in the world? And why are we - at least in some cases - so intent on winning these arbitrary power struggles that we would sooner starve and shame a child to the point of tears than give him/her the dollar that would allow him/her to eat the same healthy lunch as everyone else?

I'd love you to share your thoughts here, but I prefer you to share your thoughtful, workable solutions with Coelho Middle School instead. That's what I'll be doing this week:

Robert J. Coelho Middle School
99 Brown Street
Attleboro, MA 02703

Bon appetit, til next time.
~ Hasky


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