I have no idea how it works today and, honestly, my memory of how it was during my school years probably isn’t that reliable.
But my memory was jogged a little when I came across a story about how a New Jersey school district was trying to figure out what to do about $14,000 in unpaid student lunch fees.
The school district’s solution was to declare that students who were behind on their lunch fees couldn’t go on field trips or attend prom and would only receive the hot part of lunches and not any extras. This didn’t go over very well with today’s version of parents, as you probably guessed.
I’m not sure what extras students get with lunches nowadays. I remember being handed a tray and you either ate what they gave you or it sat there until that hyper active kid who never seemed to get enough asked, “Hey man, you gonna eat that?”
I’m also a little fuzzy on how I paid for the daily lunch. I remember both handing over a handful of change and using a tattered looking card that would have a hole punched in it by whatever teacher happened to pull that unwanted duty for the day.
Sometimes the card was blue and other times it was either pink or a light red. I think that was meant to show how much you paid for your lunch. Blue meant full price and the light red/pink card meant you were poor and qualified for either reduced lunch or free lunch.
I don’t remember lunch ever being free, but I do remember using that light red/pink card. But like I said, my memory is foggy about all of this, so I could be completely wrong.
Understandably, at least partly, parents in New Jersey called this policy “lunch shaming.” Little Johnny stays in the classroom while everybody else heads out the door for a fun trip to the local science museum? Can you imagine the taunts and insults those poor kids receive?
I can. Kids can be mean. Honestly, kids can be downright evil. But what if the kid didn’t want to go on the field trip to start with? Maybe he pocketed his lunch money until the debt was too high to ignore so he wouldn’t have to be stuck on a school bus with a bunch of stinky kids for a 45-minute ride?
I hated field trips because I hated riding school buses. Having been an adult for way too long now, I realize this is because if I’m in a moving vehicle, I have to be in control. Yes, I’m one of those people.
Apparently, I’ve been told, I get it from my grandmother on my father’s side. And if you’re in the middle of a school bus, surrounded by kids passing gas and pulling stuff out of their noses, you’re definitely not in control.
But back to the topic at hand. I don’t recall anybody ever pointing at me and laughing when I pulled out my reduced lunch card. I don’t think any other kid ever cared. I do recall a kid who was always bragging that his lunch didn’t cost anything. He didn’t seem to realize why his lunch was just being given to him. Maybe his parents had told him a little lie to avoid any shame? Or maybe the kid just liked free stuff.
And I think, that memory thing again, that a full week of lunch was $3 and the reduced was $1.50. I know $3 went further back then, but it was still only $3. Was my childhood one of poverty? Because it didn’t seem that way. I was 6’2 and 215 by the time I started high school. I certainly wasn’t missing any meals.
I know what some of you are thinking. Why is any kid paying for lunch? What do my taxes pay for? That’s a legitimate question. I’ve often wondered why the school lunch isn’t just part of operating costs. They aren’t serving steak and lobster. The school budget for Monroe County is just under $40 million, most of that from the state, so another couple of million can’t be found to keep some kids from having to stay at home during field trips?
Not that Monroe County does that. Or at least I haven’t heard about them doing that. But surely there can be some money found to guarantee a kid gets a floppy piece of pizza and some soggy fries to get them through the rest of the day.