May 1, 2007
HARLEM, Ga.---A 12-year-old's lunch was taken away by school officials in the middle of the cafeteria, all over just a few dollars.
The superintendent of Columbia County schools tells News 12 it never should have happened.
The policy is to let children eat whether their parents owe the school money or not.
But one grandfather says that's not the way it happened at Harlem Middle School.
Extra milk here and an extra dessert there added up to $3.75 against Gary Holland's grandson. Holland says the lunchroom supervisor took the 12-year-old's lunch away in the middle of the cafeteria.
"To take a lunch tray out of a child's hands in front of his peers, it's very shattering for a young man or a young lady."
Holland says the school usually lets him know if he owes any money, but this time he never got the notice. Instead he got a call from his grandson.
"She told him she wanted the money now, and get someone to bring the money now if he's going to eat."
Principal Walker Davis says every student should get to eat. But since it's the end of the year, they are cracking down on unpaid balances.
"The people who do pay, the school system and taxpayers, have to foot the bill. And it can be a sizeable amount of money from time to time," Principal Davis said.
He says that bill can up to a thousand dollars at just one school.
That's why the end-of-the-year lunchroom rule says any student who owes money has to call home before making their way through the lunch line, not after.
"A child should never be embarrassed in front of his peers, and I regret that we handled it that way," Superintendent Tommy Price said.
Price told Holland Friday (April 27) that administrators should take up debt issues with the family, not the child.
"The problem that bugs me most is: Have we become so complacent that we would deny a child food?" Holland said.
The principal says the child would not have been denied, and they would have let him eat if the grandparents couldn't have brought the money.
Superintendent Price says the concern here is the way the policy was enforced by the school.
The school can withhold things like diplomas or report cards until fees are paid.