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Mar 15, 2010 10:01 PM by Andy Koen

Lunch lady denies 8th grader for being a nickel short

The mother of an 8th grader at Skyview Middle School in Falcon District 49 says her son was denied his hot lunch because he was a nickel short.

The family qualifies for the reduced lunch rate of $0.40 a meal. The boy apparently had gone through the lunch line last month before he realized he only had $0.35.

When he explained his case, the cafeteria worker asked him to leave the lunch tray with her and he went away embarrassed and hungry.

His mom, who only asked to be identified as Cheryl for fear of retribution, says the teen didn't call home to ask for more money because students at Skyview are prevented from using cell phones during school hours.

"I just felt this was outrageous," she said.

"He was a nickel short on his lunch money and the cafeteria person asked him to leave his food with her and he wasn't allowed to have a lunch."

Previously, students were served lunch whether they could pay or not.  The understanding was that the student's should repay the school the next day.

Principal Sandy Rivera says they suspended that policy after the lunchroom racked up over $300 in unpaid tabs in just the first 3 months of the school year.

She also says spotting kids the money slowed down the lunch line, which creates problems when there are 1,200 students to feed.

"Instead of backing up the lunch lines, we told them to come to the front office, and we had lunches already made for them," Rivera said.

Since the fall, Rivera has personally bought fruit and cheese sandwiches that she keeps in a refrigerator at the school office for students who office forget their money.  She asks the students to bring in a dollar when they can afford it in order to keep the fridge stocked.

The school made several announcements about the switch early on, but that message never reached Cheryl or her son. 

This might explain why the boy went without lunch for a second time, just last week, when he again realized he didn't have enough money.

"I think that would have taken me by surprise if I was an eighth grader, I wouldn't know what to do," Cheryl said.

"I certainly wouldn't go through the line again if I knew was short... and that's what he did."

Cheryl says she only learned that her son had gone hungry after the second time it happened. She spoke with the school about it, but the food at the front office was never brought up.

She said she wants to make the situation public in hopes that other students will know to ask for help rather than go hungry.

Unpaid lunch loans can be a big problem for cash-strapped school districts.  In August we reported that Pueblo City Schools were trying to collect $150,000 in unpaid lunch loans.

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