June 24, 2018
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Parent forgot to pay the school lunch bill? Don’t blame the school

Courtesy of Renee Ordway
Courtesy of Renee Ordway
Renee Ordway
By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

My apologies to all of those I am about to offend and there will be many.

Send your kid to school with his lunch money or send your kid to school with a sandwich!

I’m sorry that your son was embarrassed and I’m sorry your son was hungry.

It was your fault.

You should be the one who is embarrassed not him and I certainly hope, as a responsible mother, that you explained that to him.

What a teachable moment about personal responsibility and consequences.

In case you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, Elizabeth Ireland of Old Town contacted the press this week outraged that her 11-year-old son was denied a school lunch because she had not bothered to send in any lunch money for many weeks and owed the school $53 for back lunches.

With the end of the school year closing in and with sometimes thousands of dollars owed in unpaid lunch fees, schools start notifying parents that their kids may be denied lunch if those bills aren’t paid.

Old Town Superintendent David Walker said written notifications were sent out. Ireland said she never received it.

Naturally it is much more difficult to collect those unpaid fees after the school year ends and so this is the time of year that many school officials, not just Old Town, have to crack the whip.

Ireland, while proclaiming her anger at the Old Town school system to a reporter, admitted that she “gets forgetful” about paying the bill.

She doesn’t qualify for participating in the free lunch program and did not indicate to the reporter that financial constraints prevented her from sending in the lunch money.

In an email to a BDN employee she said she gets behind as a single mother.

Getting behind and forgetting things happens to most busy moms, but most don’t so indignantly and publicly blame the consequences of that on others.

She’s not the only busy mother on the block I can assure you.

Let me offer a busy mother a tip that I used when my kids were young.

Take five minutes out of your Sunday evening and place the weekly lunch allotment in an envelope.

Simple. Your school, which operates on a tight budget, gets its money and your son gets his lunch.

As a bonus your school isn’t wasting time and money sending you late lunch fee notices, your son doesn’t have to feel embarrassed or rejected — for that reason anyway. Unfortunately middle school provides multitude of opportunities for kids to feel that way.

Now, could the school have handled it better?


It’s not such a big school that an adult in the system could not have taken the

student aside, perhaps to the office, provided him with a sandwich, and immediately called the mother to explain that the jig was up and he wouldn’t be getting lunch again until she paid up.

That would seem a less traumatic way to have handled it for the child’s sake.

But the school should not be expected to have to do that on a daily basis with each child whose parents have failed to take care of their responsibility.

The incident, which resulted in more than 600 comments on the BDN website, should serve as an impetus for school boards to establish written rules regarding unpaid lunch bills and include those rules in the students’ packets and on school websites.

Of course if as much attention is paid to those packet materials as is paid to the responsibility of paying one’s bills, then perhaps it won’t solve the problem.

It would, however, put the schools in a better position to defend their actions and allow for discussion on how best to get the bills paid with as little humiliation as possible to the child.

The image of an 11-year-old boy sitting at the lunch table, without his lunch and watching his friends eat while feeling ashamed and humiliated and hungry is terribly sad.

But let’s not forget that the answer to this particular problem is not complicated.

Send your kid to school with his lunch money!

The school should not be blamed for your forgetfulness and your son should not suffer for it.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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