Taking on the role of the proverbial school yard bully, the city of Cranston has made its stance known: They want your lunch money. Chief operating officer of Cranston Public Schools, Raymond Votto Jr., sent a notice home to families in December letting them know they hired a debt collection agency. Any student with a debt over $20 will have the hounds released for the sum come the new year. Imagine making the sentient choice to hire an outside agency to harass families for lunch money?
Cranston has dismissed an estimated $95,508 in unpaid lunch debt amassed from September 2016 to June 2018. The current school year has racked up $45,859 in unpaid lunches. Admittedly, that’s a lot of money to be lost for the school system. However, those with unpaid debts may undoubtedly know the pains of living at or below the poverty line. Likewise, families could just be using these funds on more pressing matters: rent, electricity and gasoline, or even groceries for the home.
While students will still be fed, the fact that these shaming tactics have reached our state is what’s irksome. All over the country, there have been reports of school districts using embarrassing tactics, and at the extreme end, denying children lunches for unpaid balances. In Pennsylvania, a school would much rather throw the food in the trash than allow students with balances to eat. In New Mexico, students can still get a ‘special’ sandwich: a slice of cheese in between two slices of bread. The argument was that it met federal requirements.
Since when has it been okay to shame children for something they cannot control? Students pay anywhere from $2.50 to $3.25, depending on whether they attend elementary school or junior high and up, for greasy pizza and questionable sandwiches. School districts say these meals meet federal requirements for nutrition, but when it’s been declared that tomato sauce on pizza is a vegetable, you have to question the validity behind the statement.
While these tactics may eventually get the parents to pay the bills, is it worth it to shame the students in front of their peers? School-aged children already have enough to worry about. Testing has gone through the roof while homework can take upward of five hours a night. They deal with lack of sleep, graduation requirements for seniors and the overall angst of adolescence — being shamed by the people that are in charge of your education shouldn’t even be on the list.
This debt should, of course, be paid off, especially if it threatens the food program. The superintendent and staff at Cranston Public Schools, however, should have found a more humanitarian way to accomplish this before calling in the reinforcement of an outside company. Instead, just in time for the holidays, Cranston has let its citizens know where they stand on the importance of the dollar over understanding the condition of its families.