WEB EXCLUSIVE: Alternative lunch for kids owing money stirs cont - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Alternative lunch for kids owing money stirs controversy

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HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Hancock County School District is cracking down on parents who don't pay their kids' school lunch bills.

This week, the district began providing alternative lunches for children. But that has some parents upset, who say their kids are being singled out in front of their friends.

Cafeteria workers at Hancock High School spent Thursday morning getting ready for a busy lunch rush. But not all lunches are created equal, if families are behind in payments.

"My granddaughter got in line. They told her she had a $20 bill. They let them get their tray, sit down, came and took their trays off the table and their milk, dumped it in the garbage, brought them two slices of bread and a cold piece of cheese, and laid it on the table and told them to eat that because they had a bill," said Willie Ellis.

Ellis isn't exaggerating. Superintendent Alan Dedeaux admits some students are getting different meals, if they have an outstanding cafeteria bill. Simply put, the district is losing money on lunches.

"If the Food Service Nutrition Department in our district doesn't break even, we have to take money from other areas, from the academic side, to make up those monies," Dedeaux said.

But taking hot food away from children and replacing it with a cold sandwich seems cruel and wasteful to this grandmother.

"Some of these kids, that's the only meals they get. If you're going to throw it in the garbage, why not just let the child eat it? I mean that's ridiculous," Ellis said.

"My granddaughter is not deprived of any food. They eat very good, but that's beside the point. She's 7 and a half years old. Do you know how embarrassing that was to her? And that's going to stay with that child."

The superintendent said embarrassment isn't the goal. He points out that there is a government subsidized free and reduced cost lunch program for the financially strapped. But the district can't pick up the tab for those who simply forget to pay.

"They can keep up with the balances of their children for the lunches and they can even pay online," said Dedeaux.

The superintendent said most parents are responding and paying their overdue bills. Tuesday, cafeteria workers prepared 88 alternative meals. Wednesday that number was down to 33. Thursday there were just eight children who received the alternative meals.

He also warns families to prepare for higher lunch prices next year. In addition to making up for unpaid tabs, a recent state audit found Hancock County's lunch prices are too low.

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