Utah Elementary School Serves Lunch to Students, Then Takes It Back From Kids Who Couldn’t Pay

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 30 2014 5:07 PM

Utah Elementary School Serves Lunch to Students, Then Takes It Back From Kids Who Couldn’t Pay

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Utah elementary school asks students to show them the money before they get lunch.

Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

The only debate that usually swirls around school lunchrooms in America is: How on earth do you to get kids to eat healthier meals? Unless, that is, you live in Salt Lake City and send your kids to Uintah Elementary School. Because if you send your kid there, you can rest assured, that rules are rules and there is truly no such thing as a free lunch.

In a misguided and pretty mean-spirited effort to teach this lesson, some 40 elementary school kids got in the lunch line on Tuesday as usual. They were handed their lunch trays. No big deal. And then when it was discovered their meal accounts had insufficient funds, this happened. "She took my lunch away and said, 'Go get a milk,’” Sophia Isom, a fifth-grader at the school told NBC affiliate KSL.com. "I came back and asked, 'What's going on?' Then she handed me an orange. She said, 'You don't have any money in your account so you can't get lunch.’”

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And now repeat that 40 times. What was the problem? Here’s the back-story courtesy of the Salt Lake Tribune:

Jason Olsen, a Salt Lake City District spokesman, said the district’s child-nutrition department became aware that Uintah had a large number of students who owed money for lunches. As a result, the child-nutrition manager visited the school and decided to withhold lunches to deal with the issue, he said. But cafeteria workers weren’t able to see which children owed money until they had already received lunches, Olsen explained.

So, with an absurd final flourish, after the $2 lunches were given and then taken away when it was discovered the child couldn’t pay, the lunches were thrown out because once they had been served to one student, they couldn’t be served again. Instead of lunch, the kids were given a piece of fruit and a milk to go with their first economics lesson. "It was pretty traumatic and humiliating," said one parent. "There were lots of tears, and it was pretty upsetting for them," said another. "It probably could have, and should have, been handled in a different manner," Olsen, the school district spokesman, told KSL.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

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