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Friday, September 12, 2008

And You Thought the Edmonds School District Policy Was Harsh…

posted by on September 12 at 15:13 PM

Updated at 3:15 on Friday.

As several local papers have reported, the Edmonds School District has rescinded its policy denying hot lunches to kids whose parents owe more than $10 in lunch money to the district. (They received a cold cheese sandwich instead). What outraged parents and readers might not know, however, is that Seattle Public Schools actually has a more onerous policy, at least for kids in grades 6-12: If they can’t pay, they don’t get any lunch at all.

An official school-lunch calendar provided by Seattle Public Schools’ nutrition services division (and, digression: I would not want to be a teenage vegetarian in Seattle schools; Cheese Pizza Munchables, anyone?) states the district’s policy as follows: When an elementary-school student fails to pay for lunch (which costs $2.25) three times, he or she “will receive a substitute meal of a cheese sandwich and milk.” After three cheese sandwiches, “your child will no longer receive a meal.” Moreover, “students in 6th-12th grade without funds [lunch price: $2.50] are not provided substitute meals.”

SPS spokesman David Tucker says the district’s calendar misstates the district’s policy regarding lunches for elementary-school children. “We continue to provide those students with a substitute meal, and that doesn’t end,” Tucker says. “We want to make sure that those children get hteir nutritional needs met.” He adds, “What is in the calendar is not accurate.” The calendar does accurately state the district’s policy for kids in grades 6-12, who Tucker says have generally “been in our system for quite a while; there’s insitsuttional knowledge about how our system works. … We want to focus on the younger students and ensure that they get fed.”

I understand the need to recover losses in tough economic times, but punishing kids—even those who know how the district’s electronic-payment system works—for their parents’ failure to pay by taking away their food seems a little harsh.

(Thanks to Slog tipper Sara for the calendar).

RSS icon Comments


When I was a kid we had to buy punch cards up front. If you didn't pay up front of bring your own you went without.

Posted by elswinger | September 12, 2008 2:45 PM

I think it's more the fact that in Edmonds they are throwing food a little kid gets to the end of the line and then their lunch is thrown out.

But yea letting 5 yr olds go hungry is pretty nasty, just put the parents in collections.

Posted by EmmiG | September 12, 2008 2:52 PM

Well Erica, nobody is stopping you from sacking some lunches and saving the day. It isn't the schools responsibility to feed your kids. You know what's usually the reason these lunches aren't getting paid? Alcohol. Gambling. (See also: General poverty)

Posted by I am a bad, bad man. | September 12, 2008 2:54 PM

When McCain dies in office I will get rid of all school lunch programs. Children should pray to our Lord Jesus to bring manna from heaven that they can eat to nourish thier young bodies.

That is God's will!

Posted by Sarah Palin | September 12, 2008 2:58 PM

i was wondering when someone would bring this up.

yeah, i'm sure it's upsetting to see food being throw away, but schools can't be expected to give out free food just because someone managed to carry it to the end of the line.

the seattle school system has a pretty simple plan for free and reduced lunches. if families need help, they can get it. if a child's parents are too damn lazy to fill out the forms, or they are spending their income on something other than lunch for their children, well that's a problem that the lunch lady can't fix.

Posted by free lunch | September 12, 2008 3:00 PM

Jeez, that is harsh. I didn't think the Edmonds School District policy was that bad, because at least the kids got something to eat and some milk, but to deny them any food at all, not even a damn cheese sandwich? Especially when we're talking about little kids, that really seems to border on the unethical.

What kind of notification do they send to the parents when the delinquency occurs?

Posted by Hernandez | September 12, 2008 3:00 PM

I can't get too worked up about this -- when I was in school, you either brought your lunch or you brought your lunch money. If you didn't have one or the other, you were out of luck. If you couldn't AFFORD one or the other, there was a process by which you could qualify for free or reduced meals (breakfast and lunch at my school). This seemed to work just fine.

I think it's awfully nice of the Seattle district to give anyone a free sandwich with milk, let alone three in a row. Hot lunch was a total luxury when I was a kid -- we had a ("cold"! gasp!) PB&J and an apple pretty much every day and we turned out juuuuust fine.

I say drop the cheese sandwiches altogether and tell parents they are responsible for making sure their kids are fed, either by packing them lunches, paying their bills, or filling out the paperwork that qualifies their kids for discounted/free meals. This shouldn't be the schools' responsibility at all.

Posted by Jane | September 12, 2008 3:04 PM

Cheese and milk sounds like a shitty lunch. Unless you're a CALF.

Posted by I have a medium penis | September 12, 2008 3:07 PM

You think it's bad that Seattle public schools don't give out free lunches?

I've got shocking news. They don't give out free breakfasts or dinners, either. Or free shelter at night. Or free beds to sleep on. Or free clothes. Or free toys at Christmas time.

In short, the Seattle public schools have utterly failed to parent these kids. Appalling.

Posted by Sean | September 12, 2008 3:09 PM

This is just another valuable life-lesson for those ungrateful ingrates to learn: you WILL be punished for the transgressions of your parents.

School lunches and Global Climate Change; it's all the same.

Posted by COMTE | September 12, 2008 3:11 PM

#7: I am interested in hearing more about your "it's starving children's fault they have poor/neglectful parents" philosophy. Should we also stop arresting parents who molest their children because it is the children's fault they have molestors for parents? Please advise.

Posted by jrrrl | September 12, 2008 3:12 PM

Harsh works: "When school started last week, 2,750 Edmonds students owed $10 or more. After five days, $45,269 has been repaid from 961 students, according to the district."

We can argue about what the kids learn from this policy, but it's clear that a lot of deadbeat parents learned to pay their debts.

Posted by David Wright | September 12, 2008 3:15 PM


i think the point is: just because kids aren't bringing their lunch doesn't make it the schools' fault, and the school should not be paying the price.

perhaps there should be a measure in place to contact child protective services if parents are negligent in providing food or funds for their children to eat lunch. but the already overburdened school system should not be required to hand out free food.

Posted by free lunch | September 12, 2008 3:17 PM

we have coddled children for far too long. there are jobs sewing soccer balls that their peers in pakistan are quite willing to do, yet american children turn their nose up at this good honest labor.

Posted by max solomon | September 12, 2008 3:21 PM

You know, if a kid turns up at the end of the line with no money to pay his tab, that doesn't mean the parents didn't fork it over. When I was a kid most people I knew would rather skip a meal than fork over any dough, especially dough that was already nestled safely in the 7-11 cash register. You can hardly move around in the convenience stores and fast-food joints around any Seattle-area school for the crowds of kids buying (or shoplifting) junk.

Posted by Fnarf | September 12, 2008 3:23 PM

Ask any primary school teacher and they will tell you a hungry child with an empty stomach is nearly impossible to teach.

Well-fed public school district bureaucrats promulgating such a policy deserve to be shown the door. There are so many more mindful approaches to be considered and taken before resorting to starving a young body of nourishment.

Posted by Laurence Ballard | September 12, 2008 3:26 PM

Fnarf, a lot of kids get beat up for their lunch money, too. And this is elementary school kids. Not a lot of 6 year old gangs shoplifting candy bars.

Posted by jrrrl | September 12, 2008 3:27 PM

#13, who do you think should be paying the price, then?

Please pick one:
1) Starving children
2) People buying lottery tickets

Posted by jrrrl | September 12, 2008 3:29 PM

My elementary school didn't offer any lunches. I never even saw a peer get a subsidized free lunch.

Although #16 is still correct. When kids don't eat, the schools get to suffer failing grades and low test scores.

Posted by keshmeshi | September 12, 2008 3:40 PM

What is harsh is teaching kids that there is such a thing as a free lunch and that you can game the system. "Free food", for whatever reason isn't free and takes away from other parts of education.

We are talking about teenagers here (not elemetary kids) who are children of Seattlites. Not exactly a poor city with lots of poverty.

Posted by ecce homo | September 12, 2008 3:52 PM


not to be too painfully obvious, but i'm pretty sure that parents should be responsible for feeding their children. what a concept.

Posted by free lunch | September 12, 2008 3:53 PM

#21: We're talking about children whose parents are failing to provide for their children ONLY. For those kids, you're saying the 6 year old girl should starve so we don't have to take $0.30 or whatever out of the lottery fund to give her a cheese sandwich.

#20: These are elementary school kids ONLY, not teenagers. Is there a wave of 6 year olds "gaming the system" that I don't know bout?

Posted by jrrrl | September 12, 2008 4:14 PM

It's been said already, but it's worth repeating: if parents legitimately can't afford to buy their kids' lunch, they undoubtedly qualify for some sort of free or reduced lunch program.

Hell, I skipped lunch for a year in 7th grade. Saved the lunch money my folks gave me and bought a guitar. I turned out fine.

Posted by joykiller | September 12, 2008 4:16 PM

You might think the cashier working on the front lines -- who we can presume knows these kids' greedy, conniving ways -- would have little sympathy for them. You'd be wrong:

Barbara Burley, a cashier at Hazelwood Elementary in Lynnwood, couldn't bear taking milk and fruit away from kids. She and other staff members collected donations to buy hot lunch for kids who would have otherwise received a cheese sandwich.

"Now I can keep my job and I don't have to humiliate a child — and that's all I wanted," she said.

Posted by Irena | September 12, 2008 4:33 PM

@23: we'll see how fine your bone density is when you're 75.

Posted by max solomon | September 12, 2008 4:38 PM

@17, @22: most elementary school kids are not 6. Many of them are 12. And 12-year-olds sure as shit know how to steal candy from convenience stores. Notice that every store near a school has a sign saying "only three students inside at a time"?

You know what's an even better indicator for student learning than lunch-eating? Books in the home. Kids with books in the home will almost always do well in school and in life; kids without almost always do not. Class size, spending, food programs, uniforms, standardized testing -- nothing else comes close to the benefits of proximity to books. They'd be better off buying them books than lunch.

In a properly-run school lunchroom, most of the food ends up in the hair and clothing of the unpopular kids, anyways. I should know; it was my hair.

Posted by Fnarf | September 12, 2008 4:41 PM


Families that cannot afford a hot lunch get a subsidized hot lunch. (That's already the case.)

Families that cannot afford a hot lunch, but also don't qualify for a subsidized lunch, can send their kids to school with a sack lunch. (What happened to sack lunches?!)

Families that forget to pack a lunch or give their kids money once or twice, and kids that lose their money (spend it on candy) or lose their lunch (eat it at recess before lunch) a few times won't go hungry-- a cold sandwich and milk or juice should be given to kids without another lunch option.

Families of kids that show up for school more than three times without a sack lunch or lunch money should get CPS called on them. Not feeding your child = NEGLECT. No child should go hungry, but if a parent can't manage to either pack a lunch or give the kid some lunch money, then someone should probably look into what else the parent can't manage to do.

Posted by Samantha | September 12, 2008 5:05 PM

Samantha, AGAIN: just because a kid doesn't have lunch money doesn't mean the parents didn't give it some. Kids have more important things to spend lunch money on than lunch.

Posted by Fnarf | September 12, 2008 5:12 PM

No, I know that. However, most schools have a prepaid lunch plan that prevents kids from being able to spend their lunch money on candy bars and pot. If a kid isn't bringing a sack lunch to school and the parents aren't paying for the prepaid hot lunch or giving them cash day-by-day, that's neglect.

A CPS call doesn't necessarily *mean* anything-- if the parents are giving their little punk money for lunch each day and (s)he's not spending it on lunch, that would be pretty apparent after talking to the family (or kid) after just a few minutes. No harm, no foul.

I'd rather see a few "innocent" parents get talked to about why their kid didn't have lunch or lunch money for three days in a row rather than a single kid actually go hungry and/or get neglected by lazy, disinterested, unengaged, shitty parents.

(I say this as a social worker.)

Posted by Samantha | September 12, 2008 5:34 PM

Fnarf, for the past 15 years or so almost all elementary schools have had an electronic debit system. Cash doesn't pay for school lunches. Kids can't buy anything but school lunch with their lunch money.

Samantha, are you going to take in the thousands of new foster kids that you propose? Or work tens of thousands of extra hours to give these parents a talking to instead of spending $0.30 on a cheese sandwich? Cool! You're a saint!

Or, we can just give the poor goddamn starving kids a sammy. I'm sure it would even save the state tons of money in health care and education and crime prevention. Everyone wins.

Posted by jrrrl | September 12, 2008 6:21 PM

@30, a call to CPS doesn't mean foster care. Actually, we live in a pretty broken system-- it's damn near impossible to get a child removed from a home, regardless of how bad the situation is. There would definitely be no new foster children solely because a parent didn't give a kid lunch money.

And to answer your question: If I could take in thousands of foster kids, I would. If I could work tens of thousands of extra hours, I would.

I would rather our money be spent to BOTH give the kids a cheese sandwich AND give the parents a good talking to. Actually, in my utopia, none of that would be necessary because child bearing would be a privilege, not a right. But, hey, what do I know...

Posted by Samantha | September 12, 2008 6:36 PM

i was almost always hungry as a a small kid. i had a shitty self-absorbed, solopsistic mother who never seemed to notice i was underfed, and won't admit to it to this day. the school stepped up to the plate and gave me food. i am eternally grateful.

Posted by ellarosa | September 12, 2008 7:31 PM

Right on @11, 16, 24 and 27 for all your comments. You are right and the rest of the idiots are wrong! I worked for many years in public schools and knew the details of the shithole lives many of these kids came from. Try going to school from kindergarten on, with filthy, smelly clothes, no breakfast, no school supplies, and getting made fun of by other kids, etc., etc. and see how you function! Mom and Dad are drunk and/or drugged up as usual. You have been screamed at, maybe physically or sexually abused, and most likely the only food you will eat ALL day IS at school. Now you fucking try to tell me that child should not have lunch until their parents do a better job of paying or sending them a lunch. What a pipe dream. Mom and Dad will not EVER get "better". If you have not worked in any schools, ever-YOU HAVE NO IDEA OF WHAT MANY CHILDREN GO THROUGH ON A DAILY BASIS! Give them food-no matter what-and call CPS on their fucked up parents! So many of you sit in your comfortable homes and have absolutely no idea of just how bad it has gotten for many of todays kids. They didn't ask to be born into horrible families, but they do deserve all the help and sympathy we can give them.

To the rest of you-if we can give them at least one positive moment each day-knowing they won't go hungry- maybe they can move past their horrible start in life and become productive adults-unlike their parents!

Posted by DZ | September 12, 2008 7:43 PM

While volunteering at my son's school last year, I overheard the librarian asking the kindergarten class if they had any pets at home. They recited, a cat, a puppy, a fish, etc. Then a cute li'l thing piped up, "We have some rats." (Not the kind you buy at PetSmart.)

The librarian gulped and said, "Well, that's the kind of thing we don't have to share." (Wince.)

Some people have bigger problems than we can understand. South-end Seattle schools need smug folks (you know who you are) to come volunteer. I know, they're not your brats, but this is your city.

Posted by Sara | September 12, 2008 8:58 PM

Samantha, sorry the the attitude! I completely misread and misinterpreted your comment. I agree with you 100%, but I don't think it's pragmatic (or near our top social work priority right now) to send social workers to a home because their parents didn't pay their lunch bill. Giving kids lunch is pretty easy, though.

Posted by jrrrl | September 12, 2008 9:13 PM

Don't parents make their kids lunches anymore? We weren't rich and both my parents had full-time jobs. Our little school in suburban Chicago didn't even have a full cafeteria. I'll bet my Hong Kong Phooey lunchbox probably still smells like bananas and bologna.

Posted by Metal lunchbox veteran here | September 12, 2008 9:33 PM

Throwing away the food is not only depriving kids of a meal, but that thrown away food could also have been used to help feed the homeless.

What they should do is switch to an automat system where parents put money on credit-like cards that can be put into a vending machine to buy a prepackaged meal. It might not be ideal, but it seems like less of a waste.

I grew up in the 70s and lunch wasn't free then either.

Posted by elswinger | September 12, 2008 9:56 PM

Elementary students in Seattle Public schools are K-5. That means these kids with no lunch are between 5-11 years old.
It's wrong to let the weakest of our society go hungry.

Posted by Book Worm | September 12, 2008 10:26 PM

Giving a kid a cheese sandwich instead of "chicken" nuggets is not tantamount to starving him. Our media are now beyond hope. Remember the Seattle Times story--oops--stories--going on and on about how twins were assigned to two different schools. Well, actually, they were assigned to the same school, but not the school the parents wanted--there weren't two openings there. So the parents wanted special treatment, but the Times treated this as something out of Absurdistan. No wonder our schools are choked by hordes of costly central administration bureaucrats. The only interest the media have is in whether kids get cheese sandwiches instead of hot lunch or in whether the parents of twins get their first choice instead of their second choice school. (The parents wound up red-shirting their kids!! Amazing.) Meanwhile, Rome is burning . . . .

Posted by kk | September 12, 2008 11:10 PM

No one has pointed this out yet:

I pack a lunch for my step-daughter on a regular basis. I try to pack what she wants to eat, but every once in awhile, the school hot lunch looks more appetizing than her ham and cheese sandwich. She has food, but gets in line anyway. She gets fed (twice!) and I get a note from the lunch lady that I owe $2.50 for the hot lunch she ate that day that I didn't pay for.

I'm not with her at school, so they just assume she has nothing to eat. What am I supposed to do in this case besides punishment at home?

Posted by Trisha | September 13, 2008 9:37 AM

I feel sorry for the kids who have shitty parents.

Also, when I was a kid one of my favorite lunch lady meals was the cheeze zombie! A kind of cheese sandwich. Delicious!

By the time I got to high school I figured I should lose weight, so I quit eating lunch, starved myself most days and used the lunch money to buy pens at the Mall. I wonder how many kids (I'm thinking about the younger kids) sit there and just don't eat and no one even notices.

Posted by Kristin Bell | September 14, 2008 7:24 AM

The cheese sandwich policy is only part of the problem. Read a few articles at and your head will be spinning in no time.


Posted by Mark Zandberg | September 14, 2008 4:29 PM

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