Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

School District Trashes 'Lunch Shaming' Passive Policy Invoked at Canon-Mcmillan

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

School District Trashes 'Lunch Shaming' Passive Policy Invoked at Canon-Mcmillan

Article excerpt

Stacy Koltiska didn't expect quitting her job as a school lunch lady would make international news a year ago.

She didn't know that when she wrote about her experience on Facebook her post would go viral, or that she would do dozens of interviews and receive dozens of messages from educators across the globe.

"I just followed my heart and my conscience," said Ms. Koltiska of North Strabane. "I'm not going to make a little boy cry."

Almost 12 months to the day after it made national headlines when Ms. Koltiska said she was forced to swap a 6-year-old's hot lunch for a plain cheese sandwich, the Canon-McMillan School District has become one of the first in Pennsylvania to switch its policy into compliance with new state legislation banning so-called "lunch shaming."

Some school districts across the country have come under fire recently for "unintentionally stigmatizing" students who don't have enough money in their cafeteria accounts to cover the cost of the hot meal and instead are offered an alternative such as a cold sandwich. That's what happened that day last September when Ms. Koltiska, then a cafeteria worker at Wylandville Elementary School, said she was forced to take back a boy's chicken nuggets, throw them away and exchange them for a sandwich.

"To see his little face when he saw that cheese .... I just couldn't believe it," said Ms. Koltiska, who quit her job in protest. "I don't care who gets credit for what. I'm just glad no child is going to go through that again."

Under the new district policy, which the Canon-McMillan board passed in August, school leaders will ramp up their efforts to communicate with parents directly about low or overdue balances and make it easier for them to manage the accounts. No longer will students be offered an alternative meal, superintendent Michael Daniels said.

"No matter the ability to pay, every single student entering our cafeterias will be offered a hot lunch with no questions asked," he said.

The original policy was put in place last year because of federal and state laws that require school districts to establish guidelines for collecting money owed on student lunch accounts.

"While our policy followed those state and national standards, they really focused too much on the dollars and the cents, and not common sense," Mr. Daniels said. "We want to get beyond that. It's not OK for that to be the case."

The "unintentional consequences" of such policies, such as embarrassing a child by taking back his or her lunch or not serving them lunch at all, prompted legislation at the state level that lawmakers hope will mitigate those in the future. If passed, schools will be prohibited from publicly identifying students with negative accounts, revoking their meals or making them do chores to pay off the debt. …

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