Under a new policy introduced earlier this year, the Canon-McMillan school district in Pennsylvania bars cafeteria workers from serving students a hot meal if their families owe the school more than $25.
That’s why, when a little boy in one of the district’s elementary school went over his credit limit, lunchroom staffer Stacy Koltiska was forced to toss his meal in the trash. Instead, according to district policy, Koltiska was supposed to offer the boy two slices of white bread and cold slice of cheese.
After this incident, Koltiska — who worked for the district for two years — decided to quit. She says she resigned out of “moral obligation.”
“There’s enough wealth in this world that no child should go hungry, especially in school. To me this is just wrong.”
“As a Christian, I have an issue with this. It’s sinful and shameful is what it is,” she told the Washington Post. “God is love, and we should love one another and be kind. There’s enough wealth in this world that no child should go hungry, especially in school. To me this is just wrong.”
The school district has responded by saying that the policy was never meant to shame children, noting that the policy doesn’t apply to students on free or reduced lunch plans.
But Koltiska, who told the Washington Post that she grew up poor and felt ashamed of relying on food stamps and free school lunches, said she still thinks the new policy is misguided — pointing out that school administrators “are not the ones facing a child and looking them in the eye and taking their food away.”
This certainly isn’t the first time a school lunch policy has been controversial among lunchroom staff. Della Curry, a kitchen manager for an elementary school in Aurora, Colorado, lost her job after giving students free lunches. And last year, a cafeteria worker in Idaho, Dalene Bowden, was fired after providing a 12-year-old student with a free lunch. She was reportedly dismissed “due to her theft of school district property and inaccurate transactions when ordering, receiving and serving food.”
Bowden and a school district spokesperson had conflicting accounts on what staff are instructed to do in that situation. Bowden said she would have had to throw away the food and let the child go hungry while a district spokesperson said students still get a replacement meal of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and milk. “This just breaks my heart, and I was in the wrong, but what do you do when the kid tells you that they’re hungry, and they don’t have any money? I handed her the tray,” Bowden said at the time.
After the story became national news and Bowden began a GoFundMe page, the school backed down and offered her her job back, but she refused.
The element of public shaming is difficult for kids when cafeteria staff throw away a school lunch. In some school districts, kids are chastised when they exceed a credit limit — for instance, one Utah cafeteria worker said to a child, “Guess what, you can’t have a lunch,” and sent them away without any food at all. In some cases, students go through the public spectacle of having their hands stamped if they can’t pay for their lunch.
There is also a question of whether replacement cold meals like cheese sandwiches and peanut butter sandwiches meet children’s dietary needs, especially if they have allergies to certain foods.