Like most kids, 9-year-old Jefferson Sharpnack was excited to go to school on his birthday. While school lunches are rather dismal in general, Jefferson planned on enjoying his day with cheese sticks and sauce.
Unfortunately, the lunch staff at Green Primary School made him settle for a piece of cheese and bread instead.
“When I was going to check out, the lunch lady didn’t say anything, took away my cheesy breadsticks and sauce, put them over there, and took out bread on cheese from the fridge and put it on my tray,” the boy said.
The reduced alternative lunch, which consists of a cheese sandwich with a side item and milk, is given to students with an unpaid balance on their account. Sharpnack’s grandmother, Diane Bailey, was shocked to hear about the incident that occurred in front of his classmates and contacted the school to address the issue after receiving a notice about their $9 debt.
“In my mind, he didn’t owe anything,” Bailey said. “I owed the money, the parents, the school district.” Bailey also recounted what Jefferson told her of the incident: “He gets off the bus and he says, ‘Grandma! Worst birthday ever!'”
Bailey told News 5 Cleveland that Jefferson and his two brothers moved to Ohio to live with their grandmother last month. She claims the school administration informed her that a check could be written to pay off his remaining lunch balance as they awaited the processing of paperwork that would enter him into the free and reduced lunch program.
Jefferson’s story has helped school officials realize that the students shouldn’t be punished with lesser meals because of the financial struggles of their parents.
“We are sensitive to the financial hardship families incur and challenges presented due to the cost of school breakfast and lunches,” Green Local Schools superintendent Jeff Miller said in the letter. “Our staff, in coordination with Family Support Specialists, will continue to work with families to ensure they have access to all available resources to assist with purchasing school meals.”
This breaks our heart. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — school lunch debt shouldn’t exist. For anyone.