Barber Middle School in Dickinson, Texas threw out a student’s breakfast because his account was short 30 cents, according to ABC affiliate KTRK.
The student receives reduced priced meals, but they are paid for by an account that his mother, Jennifer Castilleja, puts money into. While the school gives warnings when accounts are low, his family must have forgotten to replenish it, but rather than letting her pay it later in the day, Castilleja says the school told her the money would have to come before her son could get breakfast. The cafeteria threw his lunch in the trash.”There were kids all around him,” his mother said. “I think he may have been a little embarrassed and update and, of course, hungry.”
The school told KTRK, “Dickinson ISD’s procedure is that we do not allow student charges for breakfast. Many school districts follow this same procedure. Students get verbal warnings to let parents know once the account starts getting low. Written warnings are sent home to parents before money runs out.”
But some school districts would avoid this problem altogether because they have made all school meals, both breakfast and lunch, free to all students. In a different part of the state, Dallas took this step in October, giving free meals to all students regardless of their family income. That will save families money and a hassle in the paperwork to get enrolled in free or reduced meal programs, and it will save the district from having to hire workers to keep up with increasing demand. Boston took the same step in September. These cities are taking part in a national program called “Community Eligibility Option” that waives meal fees for all students and is also being implemented in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, and parts of New York City. Yet across the country, half the students who are eligible for free breakfast don’t receive it.
The move to waive fees for meals comes at a time of high levels of hunger among the country’s students. Three-quarters of the nation’s teachers report having students routinely show up to school hungry, and half say hunger is a serious problem in their classrooms. More than one in five children lacks steady access to food.
But hunger takes a big toll on young kids. Students who struggle with hunger fall behind their peers academically. If 70 percent of those who are eligible for free breakfasts actually received them, 3.2 million students would score higher on tests and 807,000 more would graduate high school. Hunger also leaves children more susceptible to mental illness — it’s a more significant factor that poverty or the education level of their parents.