MADISON – The controversy regarding Madison Middle School children and unpaid lunch bills continued this week as a small group of parents conducted a peaceful protest on the sidewalk and a park in front of the school.
School officials admitted last week that they asked students to call their parents at home or work to remind them of unpaid lunch bills.
“We did not deny any student lunch or try to get them to collect the money,” said Madison Middle School Principal Joshua Bacchus. “We just wanted the students to remind their parents of the unpaid lunch bills.”
However, parents were still very angry because of the way they say Bacchus and the school handled the situation.
“They pulled kids out of line in the cafeteria, singled them out, embarrassed them in front of their peers and told them they couldn’t eat without paying the bill,” said parent Patricia Bragg. “I was furious that my child didn’t get to each lunch. Collecting a bill is one thing, but to not feed a child is cruel.”
“I was mad,” said parent Robert White. “I'm drawing unemployment now because I am laid off from the coal mines. Not paying the bill is something that should be my responsibility and not something my child is punished for.”
“They told us if we didn’t pay, or our parents didn’t come in and pay, that we could not eat,” said student Cheyenn Robinson, an eighth student at Madison Middle School. “That’s what they said and that’s why so many students didn’t eat that day. We were told we couldn’t by the principal. Just ask the students that were there that day.”
Several other students also said they believed they were not allowed to eat unless they paid for lunch.
Bacchus and Boone County Schools Superintendent John Hudson claim no child was denied lunch. Both said children could have gotten back in line to eat. They did say that some students may have misunderstood.
Bacchus added that as the school year winds to a close he was only trying to make certain no one had outstanding lunch bills, by encouraging them to pay ahead and to remind their parents.
"The goal wasn't to obtain all of the past lunch bills," Bacchus said. "The goal wasn't to obtain any lunch bills. The goal was just a reminder to parents to pay daily."
Bacchus said the intent was not to embarrass or harm the children. However, as far as some parents are concerned, that is what happened. Some are asking for an apology for their children.
“If by doing so I embarrassed or humiliated any students I will apologize to them as their principal,” Bacchus said. “It is my goal to maintain trust and respect. If I didn’t do so, I would be indebted to apologize to students. It was never my intent to embarrass a child.”
Baccchus said since Friday many parents have come in to pay their bills and to pay ahead for the remainder of the school year.
“I have already talked to some students and their parents,” he said. “I have apologized to them if they felt embarrassed. As I said before, this was not my goal or intent.”
County school officials say there is about $100,000 in school lunch debt throughout the county, some of which is years old.
A letter went out to parents of Madison Elementary School students on May 3, 2012, stating, “We appreciate your prompt cooperation in paying lunch bills. You can make payments directly to the school or mail as listed on your bill to BCS (Boone County Schools) in care of Cindy Chandler. Several families owe over $100 and these will be turned over to the court system as noted in previous letters. Please take care of these bills as soon as possible.”
Many of the parents said Madison Middle School is a great school, with good teachers and school personnel.
“We are not condemning the school,” said parent Michael Kirk. “There are some very good teachers, cooks and other school staff at Madison Middle School. My child loves going to this school. I just don’t agree with what they did that day.”
“I just think the principal owes these children a public apology,” said parent April Hassler.
Some parents said they planned to attend the next Board of Education meeting, which was scheduled for 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 15, 2012, at the complex in Foster to voice their complaints and concerns to their elected school board representatives. See next week’s edition of the Coal Valley News for a story regarding that meeting.