Ind. kindergartener ‘lunch shamed,' forced to return hot meal over low cafeteria balance

GREENWOOD, Ind. (WISH/CNN) - The grandfather of a 6-year-old wants a change to an Indiana school district’s policy after he says the little girl was forced into a humiliating “cafeteria walk of shame.”

Anya Howard, a kindergartener at Southwest Elementary School, was instructed Friday to return her tray of hot food after a cafeteria aide discovered she didn’t have enough money in her lunch account to pay for the $2.25 meal.

The 6-year-old says she was forced to return to the back of the lunch line to wait for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She had to walk past about 20 students, including some who laughed and commented on her payment issues.

"They were laughing at us, and they got more food than us,” Anya said.

The girl’s grandfather, Dwight Howard, says he felt the “cafeteria walk of shame” was unnecessary and humiliating.

"When she was talking to me about it, she was more than 'sad,'" he said. "I mean, that's embarrassing for a little 6-year-old."

A note from the school dated Friday indicated Anya’s lunch account had just 10 cents remaining. Howard says the family had not been alerted the account was low on funds.

"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," Howard said.

Howard says he wants district officials to review the cafeteria policies.

Parents are issued payment reminders when lunch accounts have $5 remaining, according to Dr. Kent DeKoninck, the Greenwood Community Schools superintendent.

"It is not an uncommon occurrence for multiple students to be served the alternate lunch on any given day," wrote DeKoninck in an emailed statement. "Any time this happens, our staff looks to handle all of these as discreetly as possible.”

The superintendent says students are allowed to charge two hot meals before they are served the alternate lunch.

However, a note Anya brought home Friday indicated her school’s policy changed May 13, and accounts are no longer allowed to have a negative balance.

"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,” the note read.

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