Jefferson Sharpnack was denied a good birthday lunch at school because of an unpaid debt of $9. Unfortunately, of all the days for him to be denied a delicious lunch after a long morning of classes, it had to be his birthday. The lunch staff could’ve made an exception for his special day.
At the Green Primary School in Uniontown, Ohio, unpaid lunch debts are penalized by a stale, unchanging default lunch menu. When a student has an outstanding balance, lunch staff deny them their desired order, and they give the kids a meal consisting of a cheese sandwich, a side item, and milk. The alternative lunch is still a meal, but it’s not that nutritious or delicious; after a while, kids would rather eat something else.
Sharpnack went home to tell his grandma, Diane Bailey, about his “worst birthday ever.” He was denied a lunch tray that had cheesy breadsticks because he had an unpaid balance of $9. Instead, he received the usual stale cheese sandwich meal. He was quite embarrassed because all this happened in front of other students in line for their lunch.
Bailey was horrified to learn about her grandson’s day at school. In her mind, the kid didn’t owe the school anything—she did. As his guardian, she is the one in charge of his care, so it’s on her that he has a debt; they shouldn’t punish Sharpnack, especially not on his birthday. Sharpnack and his siblings recently moved in with their grandma, so lunch money is currently not readily available. She is currently in the process of enrolling them in a free and reduced lunch program. Until then, Sharpnack might have outstanding balances—meaning he has to eat the same cheese sandwich meal for a while.
His story was picked up by the media, and this urged school officials to re-evaluate their policies on unpaid lunch debts. Last Monday, the school’s superintendent informed parents that students can now receive a standard lunch regardless of any outstanding balances. Bailey was very happy with the quick response, and she hopes that the school can continue to work on providing better food to their students for cheap or for free.