Members of the Waukesha, Wis. Board of Education are in hot water after opting out of a federal program that would provide free meals for all of the district’s students regardless of their family’s financial situations.
The Washington Post reports that Waukesha is the only eligible school district in Wisconsin that chose to return to offering either free or reduced-price instead of the universally free option that all public schools in the state adopted last year when the COVID-19 pandemic really started to kick it up a notch.
The universal program is an extension of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Seamless Summer Option, which will provide free meals to all students through June 30, 2022, according to the Post.
You might think the board’s decision is strange since we are still in a pandemic and many families are still struggling financially because of it. It gets worse when reading some of the reasons for the decision, which was made in June.
From the Post:
A document from the board outlined a worry about the program’s effects on applications for the National School Lunch Program after the universal offering expires.
“As we get back to whatever you want to believe normal means, we have decisions to make,” Joseph Como Jr., president of the school board, said at the June meeting. “I would say this is part of normalization.”
Karin Rajnicek, a school board member, said the free program made it easy for families to “become spoiled.” Darren Clark, assistant superintendent for business services, said there could be a “slow addiction” to the service.
So, never mind the fact that in March, statistics compiled by Feeding America found that about 13 million kids may experience food insecurity this year–with Black, Latino and Native American children being disproportionately affected.
What matters here, at least based on these statements from the selected board members, is that these children learn to deal with the fact that they’ll just have to be hungry, because getting anything for free in this country is apparently much worse than BEING HUNGRY DURING A GLOBAL PANDEMIC.
Not only is that reasoning insanity defined, but the board president’s insistence that this is a step toward normalcy doesn’t make any sense either. This is not a normal time. At the rate things are going, it won’t be normal for a long while!
Plus, why is the free or reduced-price meal plan still the norm for many public schools? The Post reports that other school board members and Waukesha district employees notice that it still props up barriers for kids who may depend on school lunches as their only consistent meal during the academic year.
More from the Post:
Other members noted students had forgone meals funded by the National School Lunch Program in previous years. Jess Huinker, an executive assistant for the district, said she had noticed that some did not eat during school because they either did not qualify for free or reduced-price options or because their parents did not submit applications.
“We have seen kids that don’t eat,” she said.
WISN 12, an ABC affiliate, reports that dozens of protestors rallied against the school board’s decision outside of the district headquarters on Friday.
“By opting out of this free federal meal program, they have taken away meals from families that are in the in-between. They might not qualify for free and reduced lunches but could still use a helping hand, and we want to help families in the school district, and we feel our presence here will help do that,” rally organizer David Dringenburg said.
The Post reports that after two months of petitions and rallies similar to the one on Friday, the board will have a special meeting to discuss possible action on the district’s approach to the Seamless Summer Option on Monday.
We’ll see how that goes.