We’ve heard plenty of horror stories about students who are denied lunch due to unpaid fees. Recently, a boy in Ohio suffered the “worst birthday ever” when his school lunch was taken away due to an unpaid balance on his account.
Jefferson Sharpnack told his grandma, Diane Bailey, how his lunch tray was taken away as he checked out. Instead of having the cheesy breadsticks that he had selected for himself, the lunch staff at the Green Primary School in Uniontown, Ohio gave Jefferson a slice of bread and a piece of cheese.
The embarrassment happened on his ninth birthday, and all in front of his friends and other students in the line at school – all because of a measly debt of $9.
The incident was confirmed to CNN by the Green Local Schools who said that the incident occurred but Jefferson received the alternative lunch that is given to students with deficits in their accounts. That lunch is made up of a cheese sandwich, side, and milk.
His grandma, Diane, explained to CNN affiliate WEWS that Jefferson and his siblings had recently moved into her home and she was waiting on paperwork to be processed so that she can enroll her grandkids in the free and reduced lunch program. She received the notice about an unpaid balance, however, when she called, she was told not to worry as Jefferson was in good standing.
“In my mind, he didn’t owe anything,” Diane said. “I owed the money, the parents, the school district.”
The story of Jefferson’s embarrassing birthday was shared to social media as well as on local news channels, and it caused the school officials to re-evaluate their policies. On Monday, the superintendent of Green Local Schools sent out a notice to the parents of all students letting them know that all students will be receiving the standard lunch, regardless of their account balance.
“We are sensitive to the financial hardship families incur and challenges presented due to the cost of school breakfast and lunches,” Jeff Miller stated in the letter.
It added, “Our staff, in coordination with Family Support Specialists, will continue to work with families to ensure they have access to all available resources to assist with purchasing school meals.”
Diane told CNN affiliate WJW that this was a “perfect solution” and she was thankful to the school for acting so quickly.
Three-fourths of school districts reported at the end of 2016-17 school year there was unpaid student debt for meals according to the School Nutrition Association. In 2017, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said the school should come up with plans for the students who are in deficit in their accounts.
The USDA is strongly against the practice of “lunch shaming,” and denying students their meals because of unpaid meal fees.
Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.