Lunch account shortfall not a reason to let students go hungry

One could argue that Councilman Mel Rapozo is on the right track with a resolution to make sure no child is denied a meal at school. After all, why would a student go hungry because the parents didn’t put enough money into the lunch account? And aren’t we talking about what is really an insignificant amount of money, just hundreds of dollar over a month, to assure students don’t go without food?

One could also argue that the county shouldn’t be sticking its nose into school policies and leave such matters to the folks in charge there. How far does the county meddling extend, one might ask, for sake of social justice? Furthermore, doesn’t the state, at some point, have to say no more when parents haven’t put money into their child’s lunch account? Isn’t this really the fault of parents and why aren’t we holding them accountable?

We would have to side with Rapozo.

Let’s start with the scenario that many have already described. A student is in line, has their lunch on their tray, gets to the cash register and swipes their card. It registers insufficient funds, so the attendant takes the lunch away, and due to health reasons, tosses it away. It’s hard to argue that student isn’t going to be not only embarrassed, but return to class on an empty stomach.

It makes little sense to punish students because parents owe money for their lunch account. This could happen to elementary students, we’re talking kids under 10 years old, which is simply preposterous that the Department of Education would have a policy to not allow a third-grader to have lunch because that student’s parents failed to pay their bill. 

Should these parents have paid the bill? Of course. They receive notices their child’s lunch account is low. They’re notified it’s overdrafted. They know. But some parents are not responsible. They’re described by some as deadbeats. They didn’t pay that bill, and some won’t, for whatever reasons they might have. It really doesn’t matter, though, why they haven’t paid. What matters is, students need to have a meal. They shouldn’t be punished, not allowed to eat, because their parents haven’t done their duty. Who wants to tell a sixth-grader, “Well, we’re sorry, but you can’t have this lunch today because there’s $12.50 owed on your account.” Lunch for children whose parents owe money is something taxpayers are willing to fund. In refusing to feed a small percentage of students who don’t have money in their lunch accounts, the state is sending the wrong message: Money matters most here. 

It’s not exactly a secret that many families count on the schools to provide meals for their children, and many of those kids likely qualify for free or reduced lunches. For instance, Wanda Waiamau of the Lihue post office said the reason letter carriers collect food in May is because summer is close and that is a time when a lot of children don’t have food because there is no school. So, we know there are kids who have little to eat at home and need this school lunch. If the state were suffering serious financial woes, going hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt on this issue, we could understand their reluctance to change their policy. But the amount of unpaid student accounts, for meals, was $800 in August on Kauai. If the state honestly can’t handle that figure, let’s hold a fundraiser. Sorry, but it’s wrong when, for financial reasons, a student is denied a simple meal. 

As for Rapozo getting involved in what’s happening in schools, sticking his nose into someone else’s business, we’re glad he did. Too many people ignore the wrongs happening around them. It may just be that some students won’t go hungry anymore. And that, we can agree, is a good thing.

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