PV embraces school lunch debt reform

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PV embraces school lunch debt reform

PV senior Hannah Lederman enters her student ID number to pay for lunch.

PV senior Hannah Lederman enters her student ID number to pay for lunch.

Carly Lundry

PV senior Hannah Lederman enters her student ID number to pay for lunch.

Carly Lundry

Carly Lundry

PV senior Hannah Lederman enters her student ID number to pay for lunch.

Carly Lundry, Editor in Chief

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As some students arrive to the lunchroom anxious about which option to choose, others are wondering if they can afford to eat at all. School lunch debt is an ever-growing epidemic that is affecting thousands of worrisome children.

One young girl decided to take it upon herself to help her classmates. Katelynn Hardee, at just five years old, set up a “cocoa-and-cookies” stand to help raise money for her kindergarten classmates. Hardee used the money to help pay off the lunch debt of 123 students, an act of kindness that would not go unnoticed.

In other areas around the country, this issue has sparked controversy as a reported 75 percent of US school districts have student lunch debt. A video of a Minnesota school throwing away the hot lunches of students with a balance of 15 dollars outraged the community.

At Pleasant Valley, the lunch program is designed to help struggling families rather than alienate them. Darren Erickson has changed the system since he has taken over as principal. The old program instructed the lunch staff to take hot meals if students had a negative balance, a practice Erickson found unfair.

 Now, the opportunities for help have improved.

Depending on family income, students can qualify for free or reduced lunch through a series of forms provided by administration. Through this process, students will still input their ID number when buying lunch but the family will not be billed.

Erickson and his staff have worked to be more proactive with families than the previous program would allow. The qualifications for reduced or free lunch can change throughout the year due to unexpected events or family emergencies.

For example, after the flooding of the Mississippi River in May of 2019, PV families were left homeless. This natural disaster greatly impacted the ability to pay for school lunches. Lunch fees for affected students were immediately waved in order to reduce stress within their lives. 

Perhaps the most drastic change involves protecting the dignity of students not able to pay for lunch. The lunch staff are now told to allow students the right to hot lunch, regardless of the monetary balance of the account.

“We fought hard. It doesn’t matter if you’re free, reduced, or in debt,” said Erickson. If you want a lunch, you’re getting a lunch. No kid doesn’t eat.”

Students are simply informed that they have a negative balance, while still being provided with a hot lunch. By improving communication and privacy in Pleasant Valley, situations like Hardee’s can be prevented.

Student lunch debt has impacted thousands of students across the country. With the leadership of Erickson and many others, students at PV are likely to find the help that they need. “We have made a lot of changes and I hope that we have prevented any discrimination here,” said Erickson.