SPOKANE, Wash – KREM 2 on Your Side has learned some Washington Schools are throwing away lunches when children cannot pay for them.
Almost all schools in eastern Washington provide a way for parents to pay for their kids lunches in advance but the way school enforce those payments varies across the state.
Some schools offer alternative lunches for kids who cannot pay that consist of bread, cheese and a piece of fruit. The emergency meals are not offered everywhere. In fact, some schools are throwing lunches away.
This happened to the child of a woman in Moses Lake. Tesia Owens’ daughter owed Frontier Middle School $3 in lunch money. Cafeteria workers took her daughter’s food away in front of other students in the lunch line and the meal ended up in the trash.
The Moses Lake School District is standing by their policy that students must have money in their account. The sixth grader said she has received meals with an overdrawn account before.
KREM 2 on Your Side checked in with other local middle schools to find out what their lunch money policies are and how they are enforced.
Middle school students in the Mead School District are cut off after four meals make their account negative. The district said it rarely throws meals away but it has happened.
East Valley offers simple or partial lunches to students who owe lunch money at the middle school level. Deer Park, Cheney and Pullman said they offer full meals to all students in the negative even with a clear-cut no-charge policy. These schools end up taking the loss at the end of the year if parents do not pay.
Spokane Schools nutrition leaders said they have zero tolerance when it comes to students charging accounts.
“At some point either the school meal program is thousands of dollars in debt and there’s no funding for it or the parents get a bill at the end of the year for 50 or 100 dollars that becomes a very difficult situation,” said Doug Wordell of Spokane Schools.
Many Spokane middle schools have parent-teacher created funds to help a student who forgot their lunch money. Every administrator KREM 2 News spoke with said they try to make the policies as clear as possible with parents.
According to the USDA, as long as schools are providing free or reduced lunches to low income families, each local school district is allowed to make their own policies.