Cheese Sandwiches For Kids Whose Parents Failed To Pay Their Lunch Tab.

What do you guys think about this? It’s been a pretty huge story here in New Mexico, and while on one hand I understand what and why the school system is doing it (we have no money), I cannot help but hate the fact that the kids are being punished for the parents lack of payment…

Faced with mounting unpaid lunch charges in the economic downturn, Albuquerque Public Schools last month instituted a “cheese sandwich policy,” serving the alternative meals to children whose parents fail to pick up their lunch tab.

Such policies have become a necessity for schools seeking to keep budgets in the black while ensuring children don’t go hungry. School districts including those in Chula Vista, Calif., Hillsborough County, Fla., and Lynnwood, Wash., have also taken to serving cheese sandwiches to lunch debtors.

Critics argue the cold meals are a form of punishment for children whose parents can’t afford to pay.

“We’ve heard stories from moms coming in saying their child was pulled out of the lunch line and given a cheese sandwich,” said Nancy Pope, director of the New Mexico Collaborative to End Hunger. “One woman said her daughter never wants to go back to school.”

Some Albuquerque parents have tearfully pleaded with school board members to stop singling out their children because they’re poor, while others have flooded talk radio shows thanking the district for imposing a policy that commands parental responsibility.

In Albuquerque, unpaid lunch charges hovered around $55,000 in 2006, $130,000 at the end of the 2007-08 school year, and $140,000 through the first five months of this school year. So…Is the school system right? Wrong? What do you think should be done?

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Comments (30)

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  1. Susan says:

    I live in Hillsborough County, Fla. myself and was a bit surprised that I hadn’t heard of this myself. My son isn’t old enough for school yet. Looking into it though they aren’t just serving a cold sandwich but a grilled cheese, a cup of fruit and some milk. In these times I understand the schools being unable to absorb the cost of extra unpaid meals and that meal is much better than the children being refused lunch entirely. It may seem harsh but I don’t think it’s that much. I would rather this policy than the school be forced to fire teachers or cut programs to make up for the loss of money resulting from parents not paying for their children’s lunches.

  2. Annie Jones says:

    I don’t think this is uncommon, and I think the students are lucky to get any food at all if they (or their parents) don’t pay.

    Our district will allow students to charge up to $20 in unpaid lunch fees. If the amount remains unpaid, they are then allowed 5 days of sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches (our answer to the cheese sandwiches in your post). If the debt is still unpaid, the child is not given any further food at school until payment is received. At our current lunch prices, that gives the parents approximately two weeks to come up with the money, and they are sent many notices about the lack of funds during that time.

    I think a certain amount of discretion is warranted; a student can be quietly pulled aside and the situation explained. But a line must be drawn somewhere, and if it takes a little embarrassment on the student’s or parents’ part, then so be it.

  3. M' says:

    As per usual, the biggest sufferers are the children. Don’t these schools have reduced lunch programs? I mean, other than the cheese sandwich option. It is rather humiliating for children, and can’t be good for the educational environment. And are they getting more than just a cheese sandwich? An apple and some milk as well? After all, just a cheese sandwich isn’t much of a lunch. Sad but true: For some children the only substantial meal they get with nutritional content is at school. And that is going to be taken away? Have we really cycled back to the thought prevalent in the early 20th Century and before that poor people’s children just don’t matter as much?

  4. MF says:

    Maybe I’m missing something, but what’s wrong with a cheese sandwich for lunch? Or is it just the social stigma around it from the other kids?

    It’s not like they are forcing the kids to go hungry, which may be more then what the parents planned for.

  5. Annie Jones says:

    @M: Yes, I think most school have reduced/free meal programs, if the parents qualify and if they actually sign up for it.

    Being poor is one thing, and I think we all need to make sure poor families are getting enough to eat. I fully support such programs as food banks and reduced/free meals for anyone in need.

    But I think the issue with school lunches sometimes goes beyond being poor and is a result of being irresponsible. Maybe the parents are too busy, too lazy or too apathetic to make sure they send lunch money to school or put funds into their kids’ lunch accounts. Maybe they give lunch money to their older kids, who decide to spend it elsewhere then cry they have no lunch money. Who’s to say what’s happening within each family.

    But school’s are having trouble financially as it is, without paying for student meals. I would hate to see the school meal program be eliminated for everyone because there are a few who won’t pay what they owe.

  6. jnwcmr says:

    I think it’s very reasonable (and generous) to give the students cheese sandwiches. If the student/parent cannot afford to pay the going rate for a school lunch, BRING lunch to school.

    The school my kids go to have the cheese sandwich policy in place. I pay for my kids to buy their lunch at school once per week, and the remainder of the time they bring food from home. They make sandwiches, bring leftovers, even soup! That, with a piece of fruit, some chips and a sweet is far cheaper than the school lunches (and more nutritious, too!)

  7. Steve says:

    This just makes me mad. I’m not sure why anyone would expect the school to pay for their kid’s lunch if they don’t pay. If you cannot afford to have your child buy lunch every day then send them a bad lunch like most kids have. At our kids’ school, the kids only have the option to buy lunch 2 times per week. The rest of the time we pack them a bag lunch (sandwich, fruit etc). We also have to pay for the school bought lunches a head of time for the next month. If you don’t pay then your kid doesn’t get “Pizza” or whatever that day like all the other kids. It’s your choice. If you can’t afford to buy them lunch, then you just need to be responsible enough to make them lunch. I know times are tough but parents need to take responsibility for their children. It seems everyone wants the someone else to bail them out (government, schools etc.).

  8. Let me get this straight:

    1. The parents are not providing meals for their children.

    2. The parents have past due accounts for meals that the school district has provided to these children on credit.

    3. The parents are now outraged because the school is effectively providing said children with a cheaper meal that the parents still aren’t paying for.

    Have I got that right? If so, where’s the debate? Yes, the kids may be humiliated. That’s life. Ask a child who’s actually starving if they’d take that dollop of humiliation along with a free lunch. If the child’s image is really that precious, they can always turn down that cheese sandwich. Real hunger has a way of putting things into perspective.

    I don’t want kids go hungry, here or anywhere else. But children do, every day. The fact that it’s now happening more often in the US is going to require an attitude adjustment on the part of our population. It may be frightening how quickly that adjustment is made. So this tempest in a teacup over the quality of meal that is provided to children of non-paying parents is beneath contempt in my view.

    If I were one of those non-paying parents, I’d be glad someone was giving my child any food at all. I certainly wouldn’t have the audacity to bitch about it. Even if they actually feel entitled to have other people provide for their children, where do they get off complaining about the circumstances?

  9. That’s a tough situation. Reduced/free lunch programs are, of course, the way to go, but you do need to get the parents to actually sign up for it. Some parents have too much pride to do it, which clashes with their inability to send the kid to school with money or a packed lunch.

    Actually, what’s the deal with that? Packed lunches aren’t that hard or that expensive. I started packing my own lunch at age 6! For a while I got a reduced lunch, so I stopped packing then, but, seriously – send your kid to school with a sandwich and some baby carrots. It’s not hard, and it’s your responsibility.

  10. Rob says:

    Count me in with the crowd that says the school is handling this properly. It isn’t the kids’ fault – so they shouldn’t suffer. And they aren’t – they’re getting a meal ( perhaps not as good as the normal chicken fingers, but there’s nothing wrong with a chicken sandwich ). How exactly is a “cold meal” a punishment? Kudos to the school for drawing a line, but still keeping hte kids from going hungry.

  11. Sarah says:

    I don’t see this as a debate at all! Families have to PAY for lunch for their kids. Are they expecting the schools to give free lunches to their child? Parents could at least apply for free/reduced lunches if they have fallen on hard times. Otherwise, they should expect their taxes to rise. At my school, kids get a PBJ if they are overdrawn on their lunch accounts, which is fine by me. Our students aren’t humiliated by this in any way I have seen.
    I see this as a blame game. Parents are out of money and hope and are blaming the schools, needing someone to take responsibility. I have a student who has maxed out her lunch debt and she told me that her family went and bought a new puppy yesterday. Odd!

  12. David says:

    I just get tired of a child taking the hit for parents that are not parenting; that’s the issue I have. It’s not their fault…

  13. Krista says:

    I don’t see a problem with it at all. I think the school is more than generous with parents that are not taking responsibility for their children. When I was in school if you forgot your lunch or lunch money, you went hungry.

    I will be honest with you David – I get tired of people using “the children” as an excuse for allowing bad behavior/parenting to continue. By putting this policy in place, enough kids have complained to their parents (or enough parents have decided to get off their butts and parent their children) that they have already collected $50k that was owed to them, and found 2,000 students who are eligible for free/reduced lunches who had parents who couldn’t be bothered to sign up.

    No one wants to see children go hungry, and good for Albuquerque Public Schools for not letting that happen.

  14. david says:

    Believe me, I am tired of it too…but in the end, who suffers? The parents? Nope – the kids, who never mind the merits of a cheese sandwich, have to deal with that stigma amongst their friends. As much as “kids” are used as an excuse, they are just children, and I don’t believe in punishing them for the bad behavior of their parents.

  15. david says:

    Oh, and the update is that they are going to stop the “free” lunches soon due to the budget, just an FYI to throw fuel on the fire. ABQ schools want to do what is right, as someone commented, but…

    And again, as Miranda said, it is the children of poor families who suffer from this…

  16. Krista says:

    Do we really live in a world where receiving a free lunch from someone you owe money to is considered suffering? I’m sorry, but I just don’t agree. Now, if we were talking about children going hungry, or living in a crack house because of their parents crappy choices, that is a different story. A cheese sandwich, fruit and milk is not suffering, no matter how you look at it.

    I also don’t believe in punishing children because of their parents bad decisions, but let’s look at the big picture. My children are “punished” because of the taxes we have to pay to social programs for kids who have parents who can’t be bothered. They lose time with their father (who has to work long hours) and lose out on potential purchases because of the money we pay to taxes. Is that fair? No, it isn’t. No child should go hungry or be without a roof over their head and access to basic health care (and I am NOT talking about universal health care) and beyond that, I say enough is enough.

    And for the record, I grew up receiving free and reduced lunches and think the “stigma” people talk about is BS.

  17. david says:

    So I am curious what you would think if they stop serving this free lunch as has been discussed… What happens then?

  18. Amy says:

    As a public school teacher in NM, I would like to make a few points:
    1. These are mostly kids who qualify for reduced lunches, meaning the state and the parents split the cost for lunch. I have seen the numbers, and families who qualify for reduced lunch are well below the poverty line, so even coming up with thier portion of the lunch money is often very difficult.
    2. These are, by and large, parents who ARE working, trying to make ends meet as best they can. To refute what many people have said here, being poor does not mean you are lazy or don’t care about your kids.
    3. No matter what they parents are doing or not doing, a kid who gets a lunch of processed cheese and wonder bread is NOT going to be available for learning in the afternoon.
    4. I don’t blame the school system in Alburquerque, I blame the priorities of our country. It is absolutely shameful that we cannot provide a decent, nutritious lunch to our kids who need it the most.

  19. Krista says:

    I think it would be a shame. As I have said, no one wants children to go hungry. As a libertarian, I suppose I would like to see the community rally around and feed these children – not because they are made to through tax dollars, but because they want to. As a realist, I don’t suppose that will happen.

    Amy – I have to respectfully disagree with everything you said.

    1. I suppose it is possible that through our lives we have been exposed to different types of poor people, but in my experience the people who “can’t afford” the reduced lunch can afford cigarettes, beer, junk food, etc. I lived in the projects as a child. I have seen it first hand.

    2. The people who I referred to as being lazy are the parents of the 2,000 children who qualified for reduced lunch and didn’t bother to apply. I know that when I was in school, multiple applications were sent home and the only way you didn’t apply was if your parents just didn’t bother.

    3. Not even a valid argument. Have you spent any time in the lunchroom of the school you teach in? I have seen what is in lunch boxes and it is disgusting. Not to mention the highly processed crap the cafeteria serves. You can not honestly say that chicken nuggets, ketchup with high fructose corn syrup and greasy french fries are any different than a cheese sandwich on wonder bread. (Which by the way is probably on the menu every so often.)

    5. I personally think it is absolutely shameful that parents can’t take care of their children and expect others to do it for them. Again, no one wants to see a child go hungry, but when do we say enough is enough and stop perpetuating the problem?

  20. plonkee says:

    I guess it must be very unpleasant for the children, who are after all the least to blame for this mess. Maybe you’re all perfect in the US, but I know that in the UK, enough bullying of kids who qualify for free/reduced price school dinners goes on, that you don’t want to humiliate them further by pointing out that their parents can’t/won’t stump up the money to pay for their lunch. You might not think it’s the end of the world, but you are an adult – kids tend to react differently.

    I am not sure what the answer is for the Albuquerque Public Schools, and this may have been the best option in the circumstances, but I also think that if you let the kids go hungry they aren’t going to do all that well at school in the afternoon. Which might cause problems further down the line.

  21. Neal Frankle says:

    The long-term cost of humiliating those kids will be much higher than $55k

    It will have a huge economic impact.

    The school and parents should both be ashamed of themselves.

    What is the difference in cost between a the cheese sandwhich and the hot lunch? Probably $.50

  22. Annie Jones says:

    There is no reason a kid should feel humiliated over being given a FREE cheese sandwich lunch. If anyone should be humiliated, it should be the parent who doesn’t pay.

    A parent can’t expect to send their child into McDonalds (or any other business)and receive a meal for free. Why should they expect their child to get a free meal at school?

  23. Glenn says:

    I don’t have a problem with it. The kids are being fed. Kids will always be picked on by other kids. Parents have the option to pay for their childrens lunches, qualify for reduced lunches, or send food from home. How much are the lunches? If the parents care so much for their kids, how about doing without cigarettes, cell phones, cable TV, etc. to pay for their food.

  24. My child’s school has always done this. On every lunch menu it says that if your child forgets their lunch or doesn’t have money they will be fed a cheese sandwich.

    I can’t believe that anyone would complain about the fact that their kid is being fed for FREE!

  25. Slinky says:

    There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch?

    When I was a kid, every Monday the teacher called everyone up to get their lunch tickets. All the paid students were called, and then reduced and then free lunch. I’ve been on both sides, and there wasn’t ever any comments about it. My height, hair, and clothing were another matter altogether!

    In the end, it’s the parents’ responsibility to feed their children. If the school has to feed the children because they’re getting singled out and teased for not having lunch, should students with substandard clothing also get replacements so they don’t get teased? Should the school hand out snow boots for those with holes in theirs? What about people with their houses forclosing. Should the schools put in dorms to house the kids? Where do you draw the line?

    The school is being generous to feed the kids at all. It’s more than I got when I forgot my lunch money at home.

  26. plonkee says:

    At schools in the UK, children normally wear school uniform partly so they don’t get bullied for their clothing, and if the kid haven’t got theirs or it gets damaged, they’ll give them some to wear for the day.

    I think one of the reasons that the school will feed the kid is so they don’t go hungry and can concentrate in lessons in the afternoon. I’m not sure I’d send a child outside in inadequate clothing either.

  27. fathersez says:

    I suppose this is a classic example of how unrealistic people can be. They don’t pay, still get something and yet they complain.

    The kids get caught in the middle, yes, but the parents should do their part. And like many of the commenters pointed out, pack lunch for their kids.

  28. efvusa says:

    Let me just start with saying, I am all for privatized schooling. I feel it is our responsibility to pay for our children to attain proper education, but since this is not the way our government works this is how I see this situation…The government would gladly make budget cuts in our public schools and feed our children cold cheese sandwiches, while we serve our prisoners a hot meal everyday, three times a day! Now how backwards is this? Like I said, I am all for taking care of my responsibility’s but I think this situation may need to be reevaluated.

  29. sequinns says:

    We are all pissed off because we pay taxes and some people do not – everyone has an opinion on how those taxes should be divided, but we dont have any control (dont kid yourself, we dont) i pay taxes that pay teacher’s salaries, for student’s lunches (no matter what circumstance)and i must say that is one of the areas i dont mind paying, but not for a cheese sandwich (around these parts it is not grilled, and there are no sides, i have seen them and i wouldnt want to eat it for sure) – evaluate the cost in the long-run to supplying a kid a lunch that is condusive to a child’s development to a cheese sandwich, then if it is so much of a problem question why the oh-so-powerful government pays so much for those lunches. I see the government pay out luxury to its employees everyday to keep them interested in their jobs, frivolously, so how much more really is supplying a choice for a victim with a “choice” lunch, yes- a victim of whatever reason they cannot afford a lunch, they are after ALL, afer ALL, after ALLL… got the point? children, after ALL they are children!!! shame on the people who suggest they are lucky they just dont get anything you ruthless people, that only comes from people who will never have to suffer the circumstance, and I dont care what you suffered, it’s called the future and making it better, get over the time your mother didnt cut the crust off of your sandwich, it’s not about you. i love my country and it’s future more than my current luxury, the next time you stand in front of the flag, ask yourself what you are proud of, but more important what you are working for!!!! that question. When I am 80 yrs old I would rather be approached by a person with a story such as “i brought myself out of poverty because in school i was take care of and wasnt at home” than “f* the school system they never did nothin for me B* give me your wallet”, your nastiness repulses me, is it that hard to give a kid the same f{ing food or would you rather it be thrown in the trash? You give gov employees a bigger car because they “deserve” it a million times over everyday without choice, at thirty dollars each a day, govies who complain about cheese sandwich and education taxes and not being able to stretch their legs are fighting their own cause. raise them fair, raise them smart, and fulfill the opportunity they didnt have in the first place, or instead send the difference in a chz sandwich and a hot meal to another country and help their children – hope that makes you feel self-righteous.

  30. sequinns says:

    furthermore ever saying “they (you know they, those things) are lucky to get anything” is fricken ridiculous – how can you ever say that anyone is lucky to have food, the stuff that is required for living and concentration, especially for children that didnt ask to be provided to the world… how can you? Not everyones parents made good enough decisions to put them in a decent place, but sorry, work harder, i didnt but thats not my fault, but it’s different than not ur fault because i have someone who can front the bill, sorry, ….. im so dissappointed after reading all of this commentary, most of you ppl suck, and make me realize we will never be equal in america or anywhere else, as long as we all dont care about each other or want to fix problems, saaadddddd…..