Thursday, March 15, 2012

No Lunch For You

I learned a few important lessons in the past week.
  1. Sometimes, you just have to take control of a situation. And sometimes, when something bad happens, sometimes the only way to fix it, is to raise a little hell.
  2. There are bad, grumpy, mean people everywhere. It's important to learn how to deal with these people.
  3. Most people, however, are genuinely good and want to help.
Deep, yet vague, huh?

Let me explain.

Lexi came home from school last week and said she wasn't allowed to eat lunch, because she was out of lunch money. I was outraged, and almost called the school right then and there. But a lesson I learned a long time ago, is when you're really fired up, it's a good idea not to do anything drastic.

So instead, I gathered information.

I got the whole story from Lexi (she went to the "crabby" lady's line, this "crabby" lady told Lexi she had a negative balance and told her she could have a glass of water).

I remembered doing a story a few years ago in my former life about a new school policy - middle school students would no longer be allowed to charge more than one lunch. After that, if they still didn't have lunch money, they would be given a cheese sandwich. The idea was to give them a kind of gross lunch so they'd remember to bring lunch money, but not starve them (because kids can't learn when they're starving). The policy was designed to teach kids responsibility. I'm totally in favor of that. And let's face it. By seventh grade, kids are definitely responsible enough to tell their parents they need lunch money.

I also remembered that I used to get weekly email updates from Powerschool, and email alerts when their lunch accounts were getting low. I realized I hadn't gotten those for awhile, thus, I had no idea Lexi was low on lunch money.

So I did what every fired up mom in 2012 does.

I updated my Facebook status.

For those of you who may have missed it, here it is:

Warning.. the following is a Facebook rant:
Today my 7th grader was allowed to have a glass of water for lunch. Apparently she is out of lunch money. Um, ok. I thought she was supposed to get a cheese sandwich (I remember doing a story on that) and another thing... how about telling her she's almost out of money? She's pretty responsible. I bet she'd tell me, and then I'd gladly send a check. I'...m pretty sure it's not healthy for a 12 year old girl to go without food all day. Kinda screams eating disorder to me.. not to mention, how can you learn when you're starving? And... on a related note.. why can I no longer get into Powerschool? I used to get notices about lunch money that way... but suddenly I can't even log in. Frustrated. Thanks for listening Facebook family.
I regretted writing that at first. That's really not my Facebook-style. When it comes to my Facebook status, I try really hard not to air my dirty laundry, complain, bad mouth anyone, or be negative.
But on this day, I was upset enough to break all my Facebook rules, and post a status like that.
The response was amazing.
I got something like 40 comments.
And, for the most part, those comments actually provided me with some much needed support, and ammunition.
After calming down a little, and emailing a couple of friends who work for the school district, I knew what I had to do. I emailed the principal at Lexi's school and requested a meeting for the following day.
By the time I got to the meeting, he already knew what was going on and had already talked to the lunch ladies, the head of food services for the district, and Lexi. What can I say.. it's a small town... word travels fast when a parent is upset.
The meeting was great. He was totally on my side, and assured me what happened was not school policy and would not happen to my daughter ever again. It never should have happened in the first place - she should not have been denied a sandwich, nor should she have ever gotten $7.80 in the hole. Turns out, there was a break down in the system - the only way kids know they're low on lunch money is when the lunch ladies tell them and when parents get an email (which I didn't get, because I hadn't updated my Powerschool account).
But what I also learned is that my daughter isn't the only one who has experienced this. Numerous parents and students have told me the same thing has happened to them, and they've been forced to throw away the food on their trays (lunch numbers are punched in after students go through the line.. it has to be that way because of some federal regulations).
While that makes me sad (sad that kids dont get to eat, and sad that food was wasted), it makes me even sadder to know that none of them ever told anyone about the problem. How can school officials fix problems if they don't know about them?
We all have a voice.
We need to use that voice.
It's the only way things will ever change.
It's a lesson I've tried to pass on to my kids a little more than normal this past week. Lexi and I have talked at length about being more assertive, and using her voice. She hates to rock the boat or make anyone upset. I'm trying to teach her that sometimes you have to rock the boat. It's so important to stick up for yourself, even if it is over something as silly as a cheese sandwich. 
And, through this all, my faith in our school system has been restored.

I have always thought Bismarck's public schools are among the best. Honestly, if they weren't, I'd probably have enrolled my kids in private school by now (there are several to choose from here). But we've always been happy with the education they've received, the lessons they've learned in relationships and responsiblity, and how much the majority of the teachers and staff truly care for the kids. Don't get me wrong - there have been a few over the years that we've been less than excited about, but our kids still managed to learn, even excel, despite those "bad apples". We refuse to let them spoil the bunch.

The same is true with this no lunch fiasco. We will not let one grumpy lunch lady ruin our respect for the teachers and staff who do their very best every day to make the school day a good experience for our children.

I challenge each of you to take a moment and think about all the good things the people at your childs school do for your kids. They really do have your child's best interests in mind and I'm betting they actually really care about your child, and want to see them succeed.  Then, tell them thanks. It is a tough job, and one many of us (myself included) could not do.

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