Anya Howard had to walk past about 20 of her classmates, who laughed at her, to reach the end of the line to wait for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
A kindergartener from Greenwood, Indiana was humiliated after she reportedly didn't have enough balance to pay for her $2.25 lunch meal at school. 6-year-old Anya Howard had already taken her hot plate of food when a cafeteria aide discovered that she didn't have enough money to pay for it. So, she was instructed to return the hot tray and wait at the back of the lunch line for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. To do so, she had to pass the long queue of her classmates who laughed at her expense and made her feel sad, reports WISH.
The embarrassing ordeal, which unfolded on May 17, 2019, left the girl incredibly upset and her family furious at the Southwest Elementary School's cafeteria policies. Anya's grandfather, Dwight Howard felt that the "cafeteria walk of shame" was completely unnecessary. "When she was talking to me about it, she was more than 'sad,'" he said, adding, "I mean, that’s embarrassing for a little 6-year-old." Speaking to the outlet, the 6-year-old revealed that while she was reaching the back of the line, she had to walk past nearly 20 students, some of who commented on her payment problems. Unfortunately, she wasn't the only one who had to undergo this humiliating event and was joined by another student who too had a negative lunch balance. "They were laughing at us," recalled Anya.
Furthermore, Dwight shared that the school's cafeteria waited until the last minute to alert Anya's family about the low balance. The day she was denied lunch, Anya's credit had dipped to $0.10 and a note stating the same sent to her family. "They waited until there was a dime left, denied her the opportunity to eat the lunch that she had [been served and tried to pay for] and then she had to go to the end of the line to wait for a PB&J," Dwight explained. Although, the Greenwood Community Schools superintendent, Dr. Kent DeKoninck shared that payment reminders are issued right when the lunch accounts have $5 left.
\"It is not an uncommon occurrence for multiple students to be served the alternate lunch on any given day," said DeKoninck via an email. "Any time this happens, our staff looks to handle all of these as discreetly as possible… We do allow elementary students to charge two hot meals before receiving the alternate meal." However, a half-page note that was stapled to the back of a payment reminder read: Starting Monday 5/13/2019 we are no longer allowing any Café accounts to go into the negative. If there is not enough money in your child’s account to cover the entire meal, they will be receiving a peanut butter sandwich and a milk.
After garnering the district's negative attention following Anya's ordeal, DeKoninck told Indianapolis Star that they were suspending the cold-sandwich policy. Since there were just a few days left before the summer break, he said, "We're not worrying about the next two days. We are not making that an issue with regard to lunches." It's unclear if the school enforced this rule after the school re-opened. Although, DeKoninck did say that the reports about the incident were not entirely true. However, he failed to provide any basis for such claims.
Indiana district's policy on unpaid student cafeteria bills under scrutiny after kindergartener ‘lunch shamed,' forced to return hot meal over low cafeteria balance https://t.co/y7miMVL8xG— Brad Hughes (@GYMObrad) 23 May 2019
The superintendent further informed that he had met with Anya's family on Tuesday and that the school and her family were now on the same page. "They have a better understanding of the events that actually happened and we're in a good spot," he said. "We came to a really good understanding of the situation." He also added that the school district is looking into reviewing its meal charging policy. "We'll take a look at our processes as well to see how we can do things better," he added.