ATTLEBORO, Mass. – As many as 25 students at a Massachusetts school were denied lunch this week -- with at least some forced to dump their food in the garbage -- because they couldn't pay, school officials and parents said.
Outraged parents said some students at Coelho Middle School in Attleboro cried when they were told by a worker for the district's food service provider they could not eat on Tuesday because they couldn't pay or their pre-paid accounts were short on funds.
The on-site director for the company, Whitsons Culinary Group of Islandia, N.Y., was placed on administrative leave by Superintendent Pia Durkin, who has also scheduled a meeting with company officials and ordered cafeteria workers not to deny any child food.
"There is no way any child in my school district will ever go hungry," Durkin told The Sun Chronicle on Wednesday. "Children need to eat."
Students who cannot pay or whose accounts are empty are supposed to be given a cheese sandwich and milk, but that procedure was not followed at Coelho, Durkin said.
"We agree that this situation was not handled correctly," Whitsons spokeswoman Holly Von Seggern said. "We really want to apologize to the parents of the children who were affected."
Fifth-grader Victoria Greaves, 11, said she and other students who had already been served their lunch were told to throw it in the trash when they reached the checkout. The school has students in fifth through eighth grades.
Her father, John, said he was incensed that while "there are people in prison who are getting meals, my daughter, an honor student, is going hungry."
Jen Ingemi, parent of a fifth-grader, said the girl behind her son in line began crying when she was told to throw out her lunch. He said her son offered to share his.
Durkin said she was informed by Whitsons management that the total amount of outstanding credit on all students' accounts in the district comes to about $1,800.