What Kind Of Parents Are These?

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - March 22, 2006

It was a disconnect for me to hear there are parents who send their kids to school without lunch money. How can this be?

This was a discussion on my radio program, and one of the callers explained there is a flurry of materials parents must sort through concerning their kids (permission slips, school projects, homework, etc.). This causes parents to lose track of their kids’ “lunch status.”

All right. But it seems to me parents would have a handle on the basics of their child’s education experience. Lunch is one of those basics.

I can even understand the occasional forgetfulness. But there are parents who chronically send their children to school without lunch money, and that is ridiculous. I can only imagine what a student must go through being one of just a few who have to deal with the embarrassment of being left out at the cafeteria. Not only is there the shame factor, but these kids are barely fed.

Not acceptable.

The possibility of parents not being able to afford to pay for their child’s daily lunch is really no excuse. It is about priority. How much does a school lunch cost? According to parents with whom I’ve spoken, public school lunches cost $1 a day. That’s $5 a week and $20 per month. If a parent smokes, one pack of cigarettes would buy a week of lunches. If parents are truly unable to pay, there are school lunch programs that will pay for most, if not all, of that $1 per day. It is inexcusable for parents who cannot pay to not take advantage of these programs. If you are feeling shame because you have to ask, imagine what your son or daughter has to experience.

The state Board of Education is asking the state to adopt an official policy on how to deal with students who repeatedly show up to school without lunch money. According to a recent Honolulu Star-Bulletin report, the request was aimed at minimizing the practice of denying full lunches to repeat offenders until their parents pay.

“I know schools are not collection agencies, but feeding our children is key,” says Mary Cochran, chairwoman of the board’s Support Services committee.

As of right now, children who come to school without lunch money are given bread and a drink. Wow. This is the same education system that collects more than $2 billion from Hawaii taxpayers. Can’t scrape a buck together for the unfortunate student who is going hungry? I wonder just how much cafeteria food is tossed out at the end of the lunch period. I would dare say it’s a heck of a lot more than a couple of lunches.

The state justifies this “let them eat bread” policy because it does-n’t want deadbeat parents to take advantage of the kindness of strangers. So, we have irresponsible parents whose actions negatively affect their kids, and we have the schools’ policies which deny a child a dollar lunch when they have billions at their disposal.

Hmmm. It seems the loser in this scenario is the child.

What is the solution? Right now, I don’t know. But I can’t imagine a scenario where a child is needlessly forced to do without a nutritious meal. If you have an idea, please drop me a brief message on how you would address this pressing dilemma. I’d like to use some of your suggestions in a follow-up column.

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