Last week, Stacy Koltiska, a cafeteria worker at Wylandville Elementary School in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, was so heartbroken at being forced to take back a first grader's hot lunch in exchange for a cold cheese sandwich—due to a new policy designed to penalize parents who owe the school money—that she quit her job in protest.
The Canon-McMillan School District requires the families of students who aren't receiving financial assistance for school lunches to set up meal accounts that they pay into. This year, the district initiated Rule 808.1, which says that any child between kindergarten and the sixth grade with an outstanding debt of more than $25 dollars on their account is required to be given a carton of milk, a serving of fruit or vegetables, and a single sandwich in lieu of the school's advertised fully-cooked meal. Students older than that aren't given any food at all. In a Facebook post, Koltiska explained that students are also still being charged for the regular meal's price, which is further added to their running tab.
"The first week of school on Friday, I had to take a little first grade boys chicken and give him this 'cheese sandwich.' I will never forget the look on his face and then his eyes welled up with tears," Koltiska wrote. "What makes this even MORE SICKENING is that we throw so much food away EVERYDAY. So Our Children are being served cheese, being charged and denied the hot food that we then throw away."
According to local station WTAE, Rule 808.1 went into effect as a way of dealing with students whose lack of payment for hot lunches are costing the district money. While the rule would, in theory, help the school rein its food spending in, there are those arguing that the policy unfairly shames children coming from families who might not be able to afford paying for the lunch.
From school superintendent Michael Daniels' perspective, the new policy has everything to do with saving the district money and nothing to do with shaming students. Speaking to Action News 4, Daniels claimed that some 300 different families all throughout the district owed the school system anywhere between $60,000 and $100,000 yearly in unpaid food costs. Now the number of families is down to 70 and the cost $20,000.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Koltiska described how she herself came from a family that relied on food stamps and reduced-cost lunches from her school as a child. To her, no amount of savings can justify what she's seen.
“God is love, and we should love one another and be kind,” Koltiska said. “There’s enough wealth in this world that no child should go hungry, especially in school."