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Our View: Lesson learned: Don’t mess with school lunches

December 2, 2017 GMT

What have we learned from the Stewartville school lunch debacle, which wrapped up this week with the school board rescinding policies that led to what some say was “lunch shaming” in their cafeterias?

Don’t mess with children’s meals: There’s a powerful constituency for children’s basic needs. That constituency is just about everyone who’s ever been a child.

Food is a basic right: In light of this and other “lunch shaming” incidents, some people say that public schools should simply provide lunch for all students. That’s an argument worth having.

Kids really do learn more and stay on track better if they’re not hungry: Teachers will tell you (if you listen) that food is a learning tool. If we want the best education possible for our children, make lunch time a positive experience.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to collect a debt. This was the wrong way: The district will work directly with parents on balances due, rather than punish children or use them as pawns. Good move.

Don’t mess with children’s dignity: Embarrassing a child in the lunch room -- intentionally or not -- because his or her parents aren’t paying their bills is hard to defend. The same applies in the classroom, on athletic fields and in gyms.

Taxpayers aren’t always right: The Stewartville schools heard from some people who said it’s wrong for tax money to be spent on resolving school lunch debts. Fortunately, they didn’t take those comments to heart.

In the grand scheme of things, we’re not talking about a lot of money: In Stewartville, it was $10,000 in unpaid bills. Every dollar counts, and parents need to be accountable, but playing Scrooge rarely works, especially at Christmas.

Schools are hyper-local: All politics is local, but nothing compares with school politics. Rarely do city or county issues set off a firestorm like a good old-fashioned school controversy -- again, because it’s about our children.

The term “lunch shaming” was tailor-made for social media: It’s appropriate but it’s also click-bait, easily memed and demagogued for greatest outrage on Facebook.

Be patient with your local school board: School boards aren’t supposed to be involved in day-to-day operation of schools. They make policies, and those policies can be misinterpreted, implemented incorrectly or have unintended consequences. The Stewartville district and board responded quickly and appropriately when the lunch payment problem was called out.

The Legislature probably doesn’t need to get involved again: In 2014, it approved a law that prohibits demeaning a student whose lunch balance is in the red. It shouldn’t be necessary to go back into the law and threaten districts with a loss of funding. More information and common sense would do the trick -- as would more money for free and reduced-price lunches.

People are generous: A GoFundMe page was set up to raise money to make up the Stewartville deficit and it raised $9,685. Amazingly generous people will always come through for people in need.