Lunch shaming? Parents say kids shouldn’t be punished for lunch debt

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WSPA) – It’s that time of year when schools are figuring out how many parents are past due for school lunch. But the way some districts try to collect is controversial.

One school in Asheville is facing backlash for what some parents call “lunch shaming.”

An Asheville mother has even set up a Go Fund Me page.

“I just felt bad for the kids who owed money,” said Karina Barnes, the creator of the fundraising page “Buncombe County School Lunch Debt.”

It all started after she got a letter from the Principal of her son’s school, Haw Creek Elementary.

It said, “If your child’s account has not been settled by the time field day arrives, he or she will not be able to participate.”

“Punishing the kids wasn’t the right way to go about collecting this money,” said Barnes.

In a statement, Buncombe County Schools told us “School lunch debt is a concern for school systems across North Carolina. We ask all principals to collaborate with their faculty and staff and work together to find ways to reduce that debt by the end of the school year.”

Beth Brotherton with Greenville County Schools, the largest district in the viewing area, says its district policy is to never involve the child.

“We don’t do anything too punitive. We feel like it is wrong to punish students for what is simply a parental problem.”

Brotherton says a few years back, parents owed the district $150,000, and this year, Food Services, which is separate from the district, has reduced that to $25,000, just by increasing communication with parents.

Parents in any district who find themselves empty-handed when it comes to paying for school lunch do have options. They can apply for the free and reduced lunch program.

Barnes’ who was not delinquent herself, has managed to raise almost $7000 toward the $48,000 owed to the 44 schools that comprise Buncombe County Schools.

“I mean it just blew my mind,” she said.

Whether kids make healthy choices in the lunchroom, Barnes wants districts to trash lunch policies where administrators don’t consider the health of a child’s state of mind.

Buncombe County Schools would not comment on any change of policy, but did say “all of our students will have the opportunity to participate in end-of-year activities.”

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