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Hunger Pangs

Found In: dave's view, education support professionals

At a church conference I attended earlier this year, one of the speakers explained how his church assisted their local school by buying lunch for students whose parents had not paid their child’s cafeteria bills. The parents had been warned, he told conferees, but still hadn’t settled their bills. What to do?

At a church conference I attended earlier this year, one of the speakers explained how his church assisted their local school by buying lunch for students whose parents had not paid their child’s cafeteria bills. The parents had been warned, he told conferees, but still hadn’t settled their bills. What to do?

I addressed this issue in two “Dave’s View” columns last year: Fixing Lunch, Part 1 and Part 2. Of the more than 200 editorials I have written for NEA over the past 10 years or so, those two pieces about students being denied meals due to their parents neglect received the greatest number of responses. As you might imagine, most readers favored students getting fed first, over parents being held accountable to pay their debt.

As I listened to the gentleman speak from the podium, I was surprised when he quoted some lines from my Fixing Lunch editorial. That was very gratifying, though the problem persists. While our nation has focused their attention on promoting healthy school cafeteria meals with low-fat, high protein menu items, children are often being deigned meals at school due to deadbeat parents.

Depriving a child a meal they are entitled to infuriates me! If our government is concerned enough about children’s health to establish nutrition guidelines, then why are they allowing children to be deigned a meal when their parents fall behind on payments? My thinking has always been that no child should be punished for the actions of their parents.

Like all of us, children are more productive learners when they receive proper nourishment. I believe that our government should put in writing that a school cannot deign a child a meal when parents fall behind in payments. I think a portion of our federal tax dollars should be set aside to cover such deficits. I’m writing my congressional representative about this and suggest you do the same if you agree that no child should ever go hungry due to the fault of their parents.

At my elementary school in Brownstown, Illinois, one high-ranking school official says: “No child is going to go without a meal.” I questioned district officials, school employees and others about this. I asked how they would collect the overdue payment. One district official said if parents pay up, then that is what we expect from responsible adults. If they don’t, then it’s on their conscience.

Several school districts I’ve read about recently have about $100,000 on their books in unpaid meals. Some districts take parents to court and try to collect. But the bottom line is that you can’t get blood out of a turnip. When you are looking at double digit unemployment in many areas of our nation you are then confronting people who are unable to pay their bills.

There are no quick fixes to this problem. Some parents may need more time to cover their expenses. Some are not going to pay because they don’t have the funds. Whatever the reason, no child should ever be allowed to go hungry under any circumstance.

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(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at darnoldjanitor@yahoo.com.)

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.


Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.