A School Cafeteria Literally Took Food Off a Kid’s Plate Over a $9 Lunch Debt

America may be one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but more than 16 million kids living here are food-insecure. For many kids, school lunch is one of the only consistent meals they get each day. Still, some schools have strict — and honestly inhumane — policies about who is and isn’t allowed to eat lunch. Case in point: News recently broke that one school in Ohio actually physically took food away from a hungry 9-year-old child (on his birthday, no less) because he had a $9 lunch debt.

The full story is pretty enraging to read. The child, Jefferson Sharpnack, and his siblings qualify for their school’s free or reduced lunch program, but for some reason their paperwork had yet to be processed — even though the school year had already started.

When Sharpnack went to pay for his lunch (a cheesy breadstick and dipping sauce, clearly worth the big bucks apparently?!) a cafeteria worker took the food off his tray and replaced it with a cold lunch of bread and cheese. The food was taken off his tray in front of his peers, and Sharpnack was sent home with a note saying he owed $9 in lunch debt.

To make matters worse, it was Sharpnack’s birthday; he later declared it the “worst birthday ever,” Channel 3000 reports.

The school told reporters that they have systems in place to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen, but that’s almost more alarming — the fact that they have Family Support Specialists on staff who are supposed to reach out to families in need and who are simply not doing their jobs.

Little Jefferson’s grandmother, Diane Bailey, whom the child and his two siblings recently moved in with, also pointed out that food that had been on a student’s tray and was then confiscated was likely thrown away, because it would be unsanitary to put it back to be served to another child. That means that the food was wasted and the child was humiliated and hungry — a true lose-lose situation.

The school also told Channel 3000 that it offers an alternative lunch of a cheese sandwich or quesadilla, fruit, and vegetables to kids with more than $15 in debt, but the child in question only had $9 in debt. And regardless of a child’s lunch debt (which is ultimately their adult caregivers’ responsibility, not the child’s), is it really worth humiliating them in front of the other kids?

Unfortunately, it seems like our country’s school lunch debt problem isn’t going away soon. Some families have been threatened that their kids could be put in foster care over lunch debt, some kids have been barred from graduation because of lunch debt, and more.

Even the “heartwarming” stories are depressing. Cafeteria workers being fired for giving hungry students food and kids using their allowance money to cover other students’ lunch debts are admirable on the part of those trying their best to help, but the bottom line is they shouldn’t have to.

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