school lunch

Sun Chronicle file photo

ATTLEBORO — As many as 25 students at Coelho Middle School were denied meals or told to throw their lunches away Tuesday because they could not pay or their pre-paid accounts did not contain enough money, school officials said today.

Parents said some of the children cried after they were not allowed to eat or had to toss out their lunches.

School officials said an on-site employee from Whitson’s, the school system’s school lunch provider, apparently gave the order not to extend meals to students who could not pay or whose credit was already overextended.

A Whitson’s spokeswoman apologized today for the incident.

Superintendent Pia Durkin said school officials were not informed of the policy and that the principal did not find out until late Tuesday afternoon.

Durkin said today that school administrators have since ordered cafeteria workers not to refuse any children lunch and have scheduled a meeting with Whitson’s officials.

Durkin also said she placed the on-site director employed by Whitson’s on administrative leave.

“There is no way any child in my school district will ever go hungry,” Durkin said. “Children need to eat.”

Durkin said a procedure that has been used in the past when students can not pay is to provide a cheese sandwich and milk until parents resolve their unpaid bills. She said that has apparently not been followed at Coelho.

Parents said they were told by their children that some pupils in the cafeteria line had already picked up their lunch and were told at the checkout they had to throw it away.

Victoria Greaves, 11, a fifth grader at Coelho, said a cashier told her to throw away her lunch because there was not enough money in her account. She said she threw her meal away and got nothing to eat.

Greaves said “about 20” other pupils also were denied meals.

Victoria’s father John, who met his daughter after school Wednesday, said he was incensed by the incident and that he did not receive a call from the school.

“I’m pissed that when there are people in prison who are getting meals, my daughter, an honor student, is going hungry,” he said. Had he known, he would have brought his daughter lunch money, John Greaves said.

Jen Ingemi, parent of a fifth grade boy, said the girl behind her son in line began crying when she was told to throw her lunch away. He said her son offered to share his lunch.

“This is absolutely outrageous,” said Ingemi.

School Principal Andrew Boles said he learned of the problem late Tuesday afternoon when contacted by a parent. Boles said he is “appalled and concerned” that Whitson’s did not inform him of the action in advance.

“They did not respect me, they did not respect my students and they did not respect their parents,” he said.

Boles said a cafeteria worker spoke to assistant Principal Susan Fortin about students receiving lunch on credit, but did not say students would be forced to throw away their meals.

However, one parent was told by his children that an announcement was made by the assistant principal while meals were being given out that if they could not pay, students would not receive a meal.

Holly Von Seggern, vice president for marketing and community relations for Whitson’s, said the company apologizes for the incident and promised a full investigation.

“We agree that this situation was not handled correctly,” Vonseggern said. “We really want to apologize to the parents of the children who were affected.”

Vonseggern said unpaid balances on students’ accounts are an increasing problem among school lunch providers, but that Attleboro students’ payments are “not out of control.”

Durkin said she was informed by the company’s management that the total amount of outstanding credit balances on all students’ accounts in the district comes to about $1,800.

Durkin said Whitson’s management employees are in the school district today and that she expects to meet Friday with company President John Whitcomb.

(10) comments

blake959

Are you kidding me? Where does the school get off telling kids they can't eat because they can't pay for it?

bobracotecom

Those involved should either personally apologize to each student involved or be terminated. What happened to all that anti bullying I hear about? This was humiliating beyond words.

GaryJohnson

"Durkin also said she placed the on-site director employed by Whitson’s on administrative leave"

You are seriously going to keep people who would force children to throw away a lunch that was already cooked? I get that their accounts were low, but you would rather throw away a meal than have a kid eat it?

"Whitson's" should never do business in a public school again, at least without assurances that this sort of thing would never, ever happen again.

Oh, and it might be a nice idea for the President of "Whitson's" to come down and apologize to each and every child.

mitch

They should check the account balance before they get the food.

donnadejay

Wow - this makes me sick. Just goes to show what a great country America - USE TO BE................ : - ( .... We give our manufacturing jobs to China, our white collar jobs to India... and refuse to feed our children.... The Fall of America ... When our kids grow up they can tell their kids Amercica was once a great country but that was in their grandparents days 50 's thru the 80's.. Back when people knew what decency and integrity were. Back when the Great Good really meant that....

bruinsfan

I blame the school as much as Whitson. There is no way those kids were in the cafateria without teachers/staff, so they sat back and let this happen. They should all be FIRED! The principal didn't know about this until the next day? really? well that is another problem in itself isn't it. These kids came home and said the VP of the school was in the cafateria ...I believe them and she should be terminated along with anyone else who was there. There better be a full investigation into this not just a sit-down with Whitson. Disgusting to refuse our children food! Those were kids were humilated... BULLIED! Whitson had a child throw away food because he/she owed 15 cents? Yeah..that makes sense. Like I said, they should ALL be FIRED.. period.

jose

Exactly. There are teachers in the cafateria monitoring the children as they eat. They didn't see the children crying? The kids didn't tell the teachers during lunch, or as soon as they got back to class? How many schools does Whitson supply? How can this have happened just this once at this school? Doesn't add up.... and why is nobody blaming the democrats yet?

GaryJohnson

We are discussing Children Jose, and unlike those Democrats, who would use this incident for political gain in a heartbeat if they could (I am surprised none of them have tried to blame that ol' Phantom "Sequestor" for this), we won't use this for politcal gain.

In the meantime. The kitchen staff, the teachers on duty and the Administrators on duty had better start coming up with some explainations that make sense for this horrific incident.

This wasn't politics Jose, this was just out and out stupidity, greed, carelessness and complete indifference.

If a bill is owed, they should have warned Administrators AFTER lunch the day before the incident, giving everyone time. You just don't do it DURING lunch.

Somebody here needs a boot in the as*.

whitsnsculinary

To the Attleboro Community:

Whitsons School Nutrition has issued a statement apologizing to the students and the school community and we are in the process of conducting a full investigation. Please be assured that the individuals responsible for this were acting on their own and not under the direction of Whitsons School Nutrition. Whitsons’ standard operating procedure is to follow the district’s policy on handling unpaid meal balances. Our role is to collect these funds on the district’s behalf and deposit them into the school lunch fund, while following the district’s policy. In the absence of a formal policy approved by the board, we follow the written directives the district. If we receive no written directive, our policy is to serve a full and complete meal to all students, regardless of their outstanding meal balances. At Attleboro, the informal approach agreed upon over the past four years has been to alert the district when a student’s account is five meals overdue. The district communicates with the parents and, in the meantime, our staff has been instructed to provide an alternate lunch, such as a cheese sandwich entrée and the other components of a complete meal, including fruit, vegetable and milk. When we learned of this incident Tuesday afternoon, we redirected our staff to provide a full meal (with no restrictions) to all children, regardless of outstanding meal balances, until the district has approved a formal policy, which will be clearly communicated to the school community. Again, Whitsons apologizes for this incident and wishes to assure the community of Attleboro that we are investigating and handling the incident in accordance with our human resource policies. In the meantime, you can be assured that no child will be denied a meal, regardless of outstanding balances.

mitch

If only everybody had to pay nothing for everything

I'm going to try this one on the water or tax bill. Wahhhh I don't have the money. You OWE me free services!
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