School takes away 12-year-old's lunch over $4 balance

By: Stephanie Baker
By: Stephanie Baker

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.


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  • by Lou Location: Harlem on May 10, 2007 at 12:33 PM
    As an employee of said school. I know that for the past month every single child that owed money was given a slip from the lunchroom. Each homeroom teacher gave the slips out. I know this child, and he did receive a slip. The child was responsible for taking that home. The WHOLE story was not shown on the news, so some of the comments may be a little too strong. If the news had aired the entire taping, some things would have been shown differently. No one at this school is heartless. Part of the problem is blaming the school, instead of trying to work on a solution.
  • by josephine Location: augusta on May 8, 2007 at 06:44 PM
    after all the information on this story.what actions was giving to the lunchroom supervior.
  • by JOE Location: GROVETOWN on May 8, 2007 at 06:31 AM
    IT BETTER NOT HAPPEN TO MY CHILD.THE SCHOOL WHERE SHE GOES HAS LET US KNOW IF WE GOT BEHIND ON MEAL MONEY AND AFTER SCHOOL.THEY WOULD SEND A NOTE HOME OR CALL.NOW WE AS ADULTS HAVE TO SHOW KIDS THE RIGHT WAY TO TREAT PEOPLE,NOW WAS THIS RIGHT.NO DOES THIS PERSON WHO DID THIS LIKE FOR SOMEONE TO DO THAT THEIR CHILD OR GRAND CHILD.NO THEY WOULD NOT. IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT COLOR THE CHILD WAS,IT WAS HAND THE WRONG WAY.WAKE UP CCBOE.WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF WAS SOMEONE UP LOVED.
  • by brandy on May 7, 2007 at 11:01 AM
    Instead of taking the childs lunch away and embarrasing him, the school staff could have called him to the side and asked him to have his grandparents call or slipped him a note explaining that there was a balance owed. Shame on the person who did that to him!
  • by Kim Location: Martinez on May 6, 2007 at 05:25 PM
    My child attends Brookwood Elementary. I received a notification last month that my child owed $3.75 for lunch. I paid that amount and an extra $50.00 for a total of $53.75 so that he would paid up until the end of the year. My child takes his lunch an average of 2-3 times a week so it is hard to keep up with the balance. At the end of the school year, why is a positive balance not returned to the parents? Each year, this amount is never returned. As a homeowner in Columbia County, I pay taxes. I also send supplies such as pencils, papertowels, and tissues to the school. This is in addition to sending food and requested items for parties. CCBOE had better hope that this scenario never happens to my child or legal action will be taken.
  • by joanie Location: augusta on May 5, 2007 at 05:29 AM
    Yes, please do come to school and see what goes on. All children get free breakfast at my school. Watch them take a full tray and throw it away uneaten because they did not get to sit next to a friend. Watch free lunch children buy 50 cent ice cream but can't afford reduced price lunch at 35 cents. Watch children only eat their dessert and drink their milk. We cannot tell them to eat anything healthy first before they eat their dessert. Children who owe for more than one meal are suppose to get a free lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwich, fruit and a milk but usually the lunch ladies let them charge 2 or 3 times before they do that. And yes, they do take the tray out of threir hands because until they get to the checkout, we do not know that they owe. We are raising children that expect everything to be given to them. Watch them break pencils and crayons in class and expect the teacher to give them new ones. Watch them take handful of kleenex and waste them and expect there to be more for them. Yes, come to school and see. There is no accountability anymore. Give them whatever they want free is the motto of most parents.
  • by Anne on May 5, 2007 at 04:25 AM
    Another great idea would be for the school to export the lunch account balance into iparent or other online access programs. If parents can go online to check grades and attendance, it would just make sense to add the lunch account balance too. I still think the child should be held responsible but at least for parents who disagree, this would give them a way to micro manage things themselves.
  • by Ruth on May 4, 2007 at 09:41 AM
    Who' working in these kitchens? moms and grandparents they care and love the students too. parents please be responsible and find out where their accounts are so that don't happen to your chid
  • by Anonymous on May 4, 2007 at 09:39 AM
    At 12 years of age the child should be asking how much money he has in his account and making sure he has the money he needs before getting in line. In years past parents and student took the bull by the horns and did what needed to be done and their weren't all the killing in schools and cruel ways allowed, or you would have to answer to your parents. When Life for students is to easy they can't handle reality. It seems like pamper the child so they can kill us
  • by Anonymous on May 4, 2007 at 09:12 AM
    Parents need to be responsible for the student meals, you don't go to a restaurant and not pay for the meal, when I went to school we had to buy a lunch ticket if we didn't have a ticket we didn't eat, When do parent and students take responsiblity.for their own food, it's not the tax payer that should be footing the bill for someones kids. School budjets can't take the responsibility they are laying off teacher for lack of funds. HELLO Parents don't say go to the store and charge an apple or candy. Regulations and rules need to be enforced and stuck to. parents need to keep credits in the account so they have the ticket they need to eat.
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