After I published a widely-read post on the "Lunch of Shame" policy in Waterloo, several people reached out to inform me that the policy in my own district, Sun Prairie, may not be as "soft-handed" in practice as I was told when interviewing administrators for that piece. Disappointed, and bracing myself, I followed up.
I've since learned that we, too, have a practice (if not policy) of taking trays of food and throwing them into the trash, and that discretion is left to each school on how this is handled. Like Waterloo, the Sun Prairie practice doesn't affect elementary schools (where the kids have their cards scanned before they go through the cafeteria line), but does affect older students, especially those who purchase "a la carte" items at the high school. As in Waterloo, the tray of food is taken away and thrown in the garbage, and the student is offered an "alternative" lunch (PB&J) that is charged to the delinquent account at a reduced price. I also learned that the school-by-school practices seem to vary widely - from being gentle and accommodating to harsh and intimidating. One former lunchroom worker spoke of having repeatedly seen children at an elementary school crying, asking "why" they couldn't eat a hot lunch, not understanding (or knowing) that they had "insufficient funds."
We already knew that hunger is a major issue at our schools, including the high school, where social workers report that they cannot accomodate all the requests for snacks they receive during the day. One wonders if some of these hungry students are opting not to eat at lunch time for fear of being shamed.
I took my concerns to our school board and administration, and brought up the question at a school board candidate forum as well. At that forum, each of the candidates spoke in opposition to any policy that shames a student, including re-elected board president Tom Weber and newly elected board member Carol Albright. Our local advocacy and action team, SPARC, also asked that the board take up this issue and I'm pleased to say it's on the agenda for the April 21, 2014 meeting of the Performance and Operations Committee. Sun Prairie residents and educators who care about this issue are encouraged to attend that meeting, and/or share their thoughts and concerns with the board and our superintendent. Emails can be sent to SPASD board president Tom Weber at email@example.com and District Superintendent Dr. Tim Culver at firstname.lastname@example.org. The April 21st meeting will be held at the District Office, 501 S. Bird Street, at 6:30pm. The committee will forward its recommendation to the board, who will take up the issue for voting at a future regular meeting of the school board, so now is the key time to share your ideas or concerns with board members on this important issue.
Given the equity-focused vision I've seen emerge from our recent Strategic Planning sessions here in Sun Prairie, I believe that Sun Prairie can and should be a model for what creative and responsible ways to improve practices to provide a safe, healthy, equitable learning environment for all students. While Waterloo has chosen to respond to the petition by bemoaning the "bad publicity" and refusing to apologize to shamed students, Sun Prairie seems on track for providing an example of what can happen when we put students' needs first and take seriously recent reports that prove we have a long way to go in helping all of our students. In my last post on this topic, I pointed out that this issue is essentially one of equity, the principle that every child is afforded an equal opportunity to succeed in our schools, regardless of that child's family or financial status, or where that child falls on the continuum of "achievement":
In public education, we talk a lot about the need for equity and data-driven decision-making in our schools. Let's put the data that matters most first:
Wisconsin schools have some of the highest achievement gaps in the nation.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation report released this month tells us that Wisconsin is the worst place in America to be an African American child. Do we care?
Every kid has the right to a quality education. (See Exhibit A)
We all want what's best for our kids and our schools.
There's no reason we can't provide that.
And it's remarkable what can happen when just a few people speak up and share their concerns. Find out what's going on in your district. Then find out how you can help do what's best for the kids there.