School district responds to lunch payment controversy

CREATED Feb 4, 2014

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LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. -

Hundreds of you have voiced your support tonight for a Southwest Florida student who says her hot lunch was thrown away when she ran out of money on her account. Our Facebook is page filled with over 500 comments ranging from outrage at the District to stories of similar situations.

Melissa writing that it happened to her fourth grade son at a different school. A former cafeteria cashier even writing that she saw this happen so many times that she started carrying around extra change to make sure every child had a hot lunch. But, tonight the District is on the defense saying you haven't heard the whole story. Four In Your Corner's Dave Culbreth continues our coverage tonight with it's response.

Over 33,000 people have seen this story on our Facebook page since it aired just 24 hours ago. Now, I can report that apparently, the part about a child not being able to get a hot lunch because someone didn't reload their cafeteria card is true. What the District disputes is that, in this case, it was yanked out of the child's hand and thrown in the garbage.
 
"When she got to the end of the line to pay she was twenty cents short," said Bill Shrout who has a granddaughter in the 8th grade at  Veteran's Park Academy for the Arts in Lehigh Acres. He came to us wanting to know what the policy is when a student like his granddaughter runs out of money on their school lunch card. Here's what Shrout said happened, "The person at the end of the line took the meal from her hands that she had, threw it in the garbage and then they gave her a cold cheese sandwich."

After last night's story the principal told me he talked to the student, to other students, to the cafeteria crew, and to the lunchroom supervisor. A District spokeswoman told me that not only did the student get the hot lunch, but that a cashier actually contributed the needed twenty cents as a credit. But the District says the next day the student again did not bring lunch money saying she had forgotten.

According to District policy the cashier explained to the student that they could not get an unpaid lunch two days in a row and was instead offered an alternate lunch for free of a cheese sandwich. As for taking the hot lunch away from the student the District says, "at no point was the tray yanked from the student's hands, nor was it disposed of in front of the student as alleged."

"He didn't say they throw it in the garbage but they don't give the child a hot meal," explained Shrout, who said he talked with the principal at length Tuesday. "I don't think they're going to pass it on to the next kid that comes along." So, what do they do with it? I asked, but the District didn't answer that question.

I am told parents can go online and check their account, something Shrout says he will now do to make sure his granddaughter always gets a hot lunch. "I wanted to thank FOX4 news for being in my corner and getting me an answer."

As we've seen on Facebook, many of you have the same questions as the grandfather; What happens to that hot meal on that second day when they can't afford it? If they don't throw it away what exactly happens to it? It's a question literally hundreds of you are asking and you better believe it's something I will continue to ask until I get an answer.....that makes sense.

So now that you've heard from the District, we want to hear from you. Give us a call at (239) 206-FOX4 or leave us a comment at Facebook.com/FOX4now or at www.news@FOX4now.com.