Shortages in students’ lunch room accounts lead to empty plates

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) – The cafeteria for the Cleveland Hill School District was aghast, Monday, when a food service worker snatched the lunches from students who owed money on their lunch accounts, and threw the food in the garbage.

“At first I didn’t believe it,” was Cleve Hill Superintedent Jon MacSwan’s reaction when he found out what happened.

But even before the Cleve Hill School incident, a sixth grade student at Amherst Middle School had her lunch taken away because she owed money, and the girl’s family had been notified her account was on the negative side.

Amherst’s School Superindentendent Laura Chabe told News 4, the student should have been given a sandwich, but a substitute cafeteria worker was not aware of the district’s policy and sent the student away without anything. We’re told a friend shared her lunch with the 6th grader.

“At this time of year, I think districts probably across the state start running into the negative balances on student lunch accounts,” MacSwan said, which is why he believes these kinds of incidents occurred, even though students are not supposed to be turned away without being fed something.

Then a few days after the Amherst incident, more than a dozen middle and high school students at Cleve Hill had their lunches snatched by a worker employed by a private food service provider.

“[The worker] had a lapse in judgment and denied approximately 10 to 15 student lunches, and those lunches were disposed of as the students were going through the lunch line,” said MacSwan, though he said every one of those students was eventually fed, whether they had the money or not.

The private contractor in charge of the lunch line blunder at Cleve Hill was Personal Touch Food Service Inc., of Buffalo. A spokesman for the company told News 4 the worker was not being mean. He said she was new, didn’t know the rules, and has been properly “schooled” to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

News 4 has learned Personal Touch Food Service has contracts with 50 schools, public and private, in Erie County, to manage their cafeterias.

But how do school officials deal with families that fall seriously behind in their lunchroom accounts? Some students qualify for free lunches, while others get theirs for a reduced charge. MacSwan says most of the families that have trouble paying are those that don’t qualify for any subsidies, and have to pay the full price.

“We send letters home and ask parents to pay the bill, and typically the community and the parents are very cooperative in paying those bills up. I can’t say that we come out with it balanced every year, but we are pretty close to it.”

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