News 5 Cleveland

Boy Denied School Lunch On His Birthday Because Of $9 Lunch Debt

emily.mcwilliams 12 Sep 2019

One family has spoken out after a nine-year-old boy had his lunch taken away from school officials over an unpaid lunch debt. To make matters worse, the incident happened on his birthday.

School lunch debt has become a major focus for parents who have children enrolled in school lunch programs.

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Many of these children rely on these programs to provide a nutritious meal.

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Some parents have even been threatened into having their children taken away over unpaid lunch debts.

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Parents in one Pennsylvania school district were told their children would be placed in foster care if their lunch debts weren't paid.

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One CEO even offered to pay off the lunch debts of children in his town, but his offer was turned down.

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The issue has been growing across the nation as more stories like these come out.

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For some students who have an outstanding debt on their accounts, their school district denies them a regular lunch.

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Instead, the school provides a lower quality substitute to these children.

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That's exactly what happened to one nine-year-old from Summit County, Ohio.

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Jefferson Sharpnack ordered cheesy breadsticks and sauce from his school cafeteria on August 30, which also happened to be his birthday.

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As he sat down to eat his lunch, a staff member reportedly removed his food "without a word".

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Jefferson was instead given cheese and a slice of bread to eat for lunch.

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Jefferson was understandably confused, and the situation put a damper on his birthday.

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"He gets off the bus and he says, Grandma! Worst birthday ever!" said Diane Bailey, Jefferson's grandmother who currently has temporary custody of him.

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According to Jefferson's grandmother, she enrolled Jefferson and his siblings in the school's free and reduced lunch program.

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She said officials told her she could write a check for any unpaid balances until their application was completed.

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The situation was upsetting for Jefferson and his grandmother.

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“He was bullied. He was bullied by the school officials. He had his lunch removed from his tray at the age of 9,” she said.

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She also pointed out that the food Jefferson ordered would just go to waste.

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"You can’t re-serve it. You’re going to throw it away and not feed the child? That doesn’t make sense to me," she said.

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Since hearing of the situation the school district has released a statement.

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They quickly made a change to their policy that would allow all students to receive their standard lunch, regardless of their account balance.

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The school's superintendent responded as well.

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"We are sensitive to the financial hardship families incur and challenges presented due to the cost of school breakfast and lunches," said Superintendent Jeff Miller.

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The school also responded to the situation

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"As it relates specifically to our policy, students receive multiple means of communication when their accounts become negative. Currently students who are $15 or more in debt are provided a lunch that includes fruit, vegetables, and either a cheese quesadilla or cheese sandwich,” they said.

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Jefferson's grandmother was pleased with the district's quick response and policy change.

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It's still unfortunate that Jefferson had to go through this.

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And even though his birthday didn't have a great start, Jefferson was still able to celebrate.

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He was treated to dinner at his favorite restaurant and cupcakes.

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