The incident happened on Friday, May 4, 2012. The method for collecting the unpaid lunch bills has angered many parents that say their kids were unfairly punished, singled out and embarrassed for something that isn’t their fault.
“My bill was $3.17 and they sent my child to the office and made him call me to bring money before she could eat,” said parent Polly Wheatley. “There were many kids embarrassed and taken lunch from and there were many parents that couldn’t make the journey to the school to pay. Many kids had to set down without lunch, but we had great cooks and they took lunch to those kids that didn’t eat. This is an outrage to many people including me about our children getting there food taken away over small lunch bills.”
Michael Kirk said he couldn't believe his ears when he asked his daughter how her day went at school Friday.
"She said at lunch time some kids had to collect money for the other kids to eat," Kirk said.
Several kids went home that day saying they or their friends had been singled out and embarrassed in the cafeteria because their parents were delinquent on their lunch bills.
Superintendent John Hudson said the Principal Joshua Bacchus did talk to students prior to lunch about unpaid lunch bills owed by their parents and did, in fact, ask some of them to call their parents. Hudson, said, however that no child was denied lunch.
“I can assure you no student was denied lunch,” Hudson said. “Principal Bacchus also called several parents himself just to inform them the needed to get the unpaid bills paid, but told the students they could still come to eat.”
Hudson said the principal only asked those students to go down to the office to call their parents and remind them that they had an outstanding lunch bill and to ask them to please come in to bring those current.
“There was no intent to embarrass or not feed any child,” Hudson said.
Parent Robert White, who is currently unemployed, posted a picture of his children's school lunch bill on his Facebook page. He wanted people to know that his kids were called to the office because he was less than $10 behind on their bill.
"I got a phone call on Friday saying my kids would not be able to eat unless I came down to pay the lunch bill," White said.
Hudson, and other school officials, said that is not true.
“There was a misunderstanding,” Hudson said. “The principal told the students after they called their parents they could return to the cafeteria to eat.”
Assistant Superintendent Jeff Huffman also spoke to the media.
"We would never punish a child because their parents hadn't paid a lunch bill," Huffman told WOWK-TV 13 in a televised interview.
However parents say what happened at the school Friday was out of line.
"They singled out the kids that had an outstanding lunch bill and just embarrassed them in front of all their friends and their peers," White said.
Other parents said using children to collect an unpaid lunch bill is unethical and shocking.
“You don’t use children,” one grandmother said. “It’s seems to me that doing this would violate state law or policy.”
Hudson said regardless of law or policy, the school system would never deny a child lunch.
“I understand their concerns, but they should have called the school and if they didn’t get a satisfactory answer then call me or one of the assistant superintendents,” Hudson said.
County school leaders report that there is over $100,000 in school lunch debt that has accumulated over the last two years from unpaid school lunch bills. Some bills are over three years delinquent. Huffman says in some cases collection agencies are contacted to help recoup the money.
Parents and community members are planning a peaceful protest for Wednesday morning. They will meet at the park across the street from Madison Middle school at 9 a.m., Wednesday morning.