PITTSBURGH - A cafeteria worker in Pittsburgh says she quit her job over “lunch shaming.”
Stacy Koltiska, a former employee at Canon McMillan School District, said a new rule humiliates students in an effort to get parents to pay for overdrawn lunch accounts.
Koltiska spent two years working in the cafeteria at Wylandville Elementary, but she resigned last week after she had to take away hot meals from two children.
“His eyes welled up with tears. I’ll never forget his name, the look on his face,” Koltiska said.
The new policy at Canon McMillan, which was passed over the summer for grades K-6, says the hot meal item will be replaced by a sandwich if $25 or more is owed to the district for lunches.
For older kids, they will receive no lunch if the debt is $25.
Koltiska says it was enforced “the very first week of school on Friday.”
After it happened a second time, she posted her experience on Facebook, which has now been shared over 2,600 times. She says the children are the ones who are embarrassed in the process.
“The woman I was working with was trying to get my attention, but I didn’t see ‘cause we’re serving so many kids, to tell me before I gave him the chicken to give him the cheese. But it was too late. He already had his tray,” Koltiska said.
Koltiska says due to other policies, she had to then throw away the hot lunch after taking it away.
The district says parents were notified in an email or by letter in August before the school year.
Superintendent Matthew Daniels says this is about collecting money owed, noting that parents are notified weekly of lunch balances.
“There has never been the intent with the adoption of this policy to shame or embarrass a child,” Daniels said.
Daniels says before the policy, more than 300 families owed money. As of last Friday, that number has gone down to 66. That equates a lot of money recouped
“They fluctuated between $60,000 to $100,000 owed annually. Now, it’s down to less than $20,000” owed,” Daniels said.
“I’m not saying the parents shouldn’t be held accountable, but I think there has to be a better way than involving the children,” Koltiska said.
We checked with some Houston-area school districts and many have similar policies:
In HISD, all students get a free breakfast. Students can charge up to three meals before getting an alternate meal.
In Fort Bend ISD, they allow five breakfasts or lunches to be charged. After that, elementary students get unlimited alternate meals like a simple sandwich and drink. Middle and high school students get five alternate meals. After that, they get nothing.
Spring ISD allows all students to charge up to three meals when their account is unsufficient. After that, they’re given unlimited alternate meals.
Katy ISD gives elementary students up to 10 breakfasts and lunches before they get an alternate meal. Junior and high school students can only charge one breakfast and one lunch. After that, they’re on their own.
Cy-Fair ISD’s policy leaves no students hungry. When students exceed limits for charged breakfasts and lunches, the “Lunch Super Hero Account” kicks in. It uses donations to pay for hot meals for all students.