An Indiana grandfather has accused his 6-year-old granddaughter’s school of “lunch shaming” her after she was sent to the back of the line for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when she couldn’t afford to pay for the hot meal already on her tray.
His complaint, which featured in a local media report, stirred great interest on social media, where the issue of free school meals often prompts debate, especially around the notion of “lunch shaming.”
Anya Howard, 6, had loaded up her tray with a hot meal in the cafeteria, at the Southwest Elementary School in Greenwood, only to be told to put it back when staff found she had only $0.10 on her account, according to News 8.
She told the news channel that several classmates laughed at her and made her feel “sad.”
Her grandfather, Dwight Howard, said the “cafeteria walk of shame”—past about 20 other children in the line—was “unnecessary and humiliating” according to News 8.
“I mean, that’s embarrassing for a little 6-year-old,” he said.
Howard said that the school failed to alert the family that her account had dropped to almost nothing.
The school declined to comment to News 8 on the specifics of the case but a representative for Greenwood Community Schools said, “It is not an uncommon occurrence for multiple students to be served the alternate lunch on any given day.”
Elementary school students are allowed to charge two hot meals when their credit runs out, before they are given an alternate meal.
However, a school note obtained by News 8, stated: that from May 13 accounts would not be allowed to go into the negative. “If there is not enough money in your child’s account to cover the entire meal, they will be receiving a peanut butter sandwich and a milk.”
A school board in Rhode Island sparked a similar debate when it announced last month that children on free school lunches would be given a sunflower butter and jelly sandwich instead of a hot meal if they owe money on the account for extras.
“Effective Monday, May 13, 2019, if money is owed on a paid, free, or reduced lunch account a sun butter and jelly sandwich will be given as the lunch choice until the balance owed is paid in full or a payment plan is set up,” Warwick Public Schools announced on May 5 via Facebook.
Students who qualify for free meals can still run up a debt by adding extras to their lunch trays, such as milk, which are not included in the free lunch, according to parents who commented on Facebook.
Warwick is the second largest city in the state, with a population of just over 80,000.
All public schools in Rhode Island are mandated by state law to provide lunches, and nearly 70 percent of those meals are served for free or at a reduced price.
Some parents have since set up an online fundraiser to cover the outstanding debts.
“The Warwick Public School System has an outstanding balance of $77,000 for unpaid school lunches,” said the fundraiser description. “Let’s come together and pay it for the kids, so no one has to be singled out and embarrassed by being denied hot lunch.”