I am writing this letter to the Editor on behalf of myself, as a parent and tax payer, my children and all of the other parents, children and taxpayers of MillCreek West Unity School District. My concern is with the operation of the cafeteria and our children’s school lunch accounts. Several children have fallen victim to the antics of one staff member who seems to find it acceptable to bully children over lunch money; to the extent she has taken food that either we as tax payers are paying for or the State of Ohio is paying for through the use of grant money, and she is dumping it in the trash. Consequently not only is she throwing away hot meals that could be consumed by our children; she is also throwing away our money as taxpayers in this school district, or she is throwing away government grant money. Either way someone is paying for her power trip, while our children suffer and go without.
Back in December of 2014 I was informed that my daughter’s lunch was taken from her hands and dumped into the trash and she was then handed a peanut butter sandwich because she was negative $6.10 in her lunch account. This was a complete oversight on my part, one for which I assume 100% responsibility. On December 8th, I contacted Larry Long, Superintendent of our school, and told him of my concerns. He directed me to Ellie Shinhearl (“Miss Ellie”), our “food service manager”, which I then contacted her and left her a message to call me in the afternoon. On December 9th, Miss Ellie called me at 6:20 a.m. and stated that she did not have to notify me of my daughter’s delinquency in her account and that the actions taken were “procedure” not policy, based on the USDA guidelines. She was extremely rude and disrespectful and denied that my daughter’s lunch was dumped. I told her I had a handful of other children, aside from my daughter, telling me the exact same story and her response was they were all liars. She informed me it was every child in the school district to know their balance in their lunch accounts. I argued it is not the child’s responsibility, it is ours as parents to ensure that they have money to eat, but we cannot effectively safeguard our children from the public humiliation she displaying upon them if we are unaware of their balances. I told her since we could not reach any type of civility that I would be at the next school board meeting. I was then informed by Miss Ellie that the school board has “no clue” to her procedures and policies “because the board does not vote on anything pertaining to the lunch room”, so for me to go ahead and attend the meeting. Since that conversation I have spoken with several parents who have said their children’s lunches have taken from them and dumped and that they have had the same issue with Miss Ellie when they call to question anything regarding their child(ren)’s lunch account. It is the consensus that she is rude and refuses to discuss anything with any parent that questions her behavior. She has even told parents that if they don’t like her rules, then their child doesn’t need to eat the school lunches. I, for one, find her behavior unacceptable considering her position, and I find the school’s lack of interest in enforcing a more professional and courteous behavior from one of their staff members shameful. I did attend the December 15th school board meeting in which I was told the procedure did need amending as it is incorrectly worded, and at that time Miss Ellie was instructed to make those amendments. To date (February 13, 2015) no amendments have been made and children are still getting their lunches dumped in the trash. Below is Miss Ellie’s “Procedure” per the MillCreek West Unity website:
“We will no longer be able to accept charges after you have a balance of negative seven dollars (-$7.00) no exceptions will be made. With a $-7.00 balance three (3) meals have already been charged, therefore you will be denied a lunch and served a peanut butter sandwich with milk. Again, there will be NO exceptions.
If you have a carry-over negative balance of -$7.00 or higher from previous year’s you will be denied a meal also and served a peanut butter sandwich with milk. NO exceptions.
While all of us are busy we have made it easy to check your balance and keep your lunch account current. To find your balance you can ask the cashier, check it on line, and then pay accordingly on your account.
Please utilize these tools to insure you have funds available for a well balanced, nutritious lunch. If you have any questions I can be reached at 419-924-2365 option 7 or ext 2144 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks, Miss Ellie”
The first error in Miss Ellie’s procedure is the cost of 3 meals is $7.65, therefore $7.00 is not an accurate reflection. Secondly it states AFTER you have a balance of negative $7 you will not be able to charge. My daughter did not have a current balance of -$7.00, she had a balance of -$6.10. Upon requesting a complete printout of my daughter’s lunch account for the year, I noticed she also was refused a lunch when she was – $4.55 which wasn’t even the equivalent of 2 school lunches. My daughter informed me that on that specific day she wasn’t given a tray, she was immediately handed a peanut-butter sandwich. Personally I think if you are going to have a cap on the charges it should be the equivalent of one week’s worth of school lunches, or $12.75. In addition, if a child is in the negative, then they should not be allowed to purchase extras. Furthermore, I believe if a child goes into the negative, the parents should be notified immediately, either by a letter or email. The school has numerous ways to contact the parents, especially considering the plethora of paperwork they send home at the beginning of each and every school year. How difficult would it be to include a sign-up sheet asking parents if they would like to be notified and the best way to send such notification? I am contacted religiously for events that have nothing to do with my children via the use of the Honeywell Alert System, so then why is it so difficult for Miss Ellie to send me an email stating my child went into the negative?
In addition, NEVER should a child’s lunch be taken from them and thrown in the trash; that is unacceptable and ludicrous. I have reached out to the both the Department of Education and the USDA and am awaiting documentation clarifying the standards in which they suggest the food services program should operate. For as it stands, such policies are at the discretion of the schools. According to the research I have done, the USDA is however “concerned whenever circumstances beyond a child’s control, such as not having money on hand or in their lunch account, prevents the child from receiving a regular school meal. Denying or taking food away from children is a form of punishment and stigmatizes children whose parents are behind in payments.” That is directly from the USDA’s website, in which I am now sure Miss Ellie never read, as she would be incorrect in her statement that such behaviors are based upon the USDA’s policies and procedures. Furthermore, there are several kids in our school district that qualify for free lunches that do not receive them because either their parents don’t know how to complete the paperwork, are unaware that if circumstances change throughout the year they can complete a new form or they are simply too embarrassed to ask for help. The lunch Miss Ellie is taking out of a child’s hands and throwing in the trash could be that child’s only hot meal for the day. I am blessed in being able to say that I know for a fact my children get 3 hot meals a day, but I know there are kids in our system that do not. I cannot ever remember a time growing up when a child was denied a lunch, or given a peanut-butter sandwich for that matter. In all honesty, I find the peanut-butter sandwich procedure in itself a form of public discipline and humiliation. The open act of taking a lunch and replacing it with a peanut butter sandwich is no different than announcing which children get free or reduced lunches.
There are simple solutions to the issues with our lunch policy. With less than half of our student body not qualifying for free or reduced lunches, we could easily increase the amount of acceptable charges to $12.75 (the cost of 5 school lunches or one week’s worth) and implement the procedure of immediately contacting a parent when their child’s account first goes into the negative. This would eliminate the revolting behavior that is being inflicted upon our children. Furthermore, under NO circumstance should a hot meal ever be removed from a child’s hands and thrown into the trash. I believe any person who removes a tray from a child and throws it away should have disciplinary action taken against them. It is humiliating, disrespectful and a form of bullying (which we also have policies against). I graduated from Hilltop High School and have always been proud of the same; and I seriously thought I was doing my daughters a great service putting them in this school district. However, when I became aware of the behavior staff members are being allowed to thrust upon our children, I cannot say I am as confident in my decision. What exactly are they hoping to teach our children, that it is better to waste a meal than give it to someone who is a few dollars short in their account? It is not rocket science; it is honestly about being a compassionate human being and using common sense. My daughter was not the first child to have her lunch taken out of her hands and dumped in the trash, and several children have continued to experience the same form of public humiliation. It is time we as parents stand up for our children and say enough is enough. I followed the chain of command as I was instructed to do and to no avail, therefore I will be back in attendance at the next board meeting to address these issues again and I will continue to address the lunch procedures until they are changed. This is not just about my children, it is about every child. The next school board meeting is scheduled for February 23, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. in the Library for any parents, taxpayers or concerned citizens of this district who want to take a stand and say we will not tolerate the behavior of Miss Ellie and her staff, and that changes need to be implemented immediately .
Very truly yours,