Schools wanting payment is not that bad

Published 10:44 am Thursday, February 20, 2014

Column: Guest Column, by Joel Myhre

OK, I admit that it’s a troubling scenario. A kid goes through the hot lunch line, grabs a lunch, and then has the “lunch lady” tell them they have no more money in their balance, grab the lunch from their hands and throw it in the trash.

The student sits hungry while his fellow classmates eat.

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Kind of brings a tear to one’s eye.

Joel Myhre

Joel Myhre

Of course, the issue of dealing with students, more accurately, the student’s parents, who are behind in paying for school lunch is far more gray than the media reports would like to make it.

For one thing, truly poor students don’t have this problem. Low-income parents qualify for free or reduced lunch.

The fact is, my position as the manager of the Fergus Falls Journal has given me the opportunity to understand the world of bill collection.

The reality is, whether someone can pay their bills or not often has little to do with one’s financial standing. I have customers who I would categorize as barely scraping by who pay their bills on time.

I also have customers who most would identify as well off who are chronically late when it comes to paying their bills.

It’s likely the same when it comes to school lunches as well. It’s probably why some “lunch ladies” have been known to take lunches away from students and throw them in the trash. My bet is that the lunch person knows the parents of the student have the ability to pay for lunch, but haven’t.

As a parent of a third-grader, I can attest to the black stamp. Yes, my daughter came home with the black stamp one day. To her credit, she didn’t think anything of it. I was the one who was embarrassed. I quickly rushed to my computer to reload her account.

That said, it seems like there are a lot of sweeping, kill-the-mouse-with-an-elephant solutions being bandied about. Government should just pay for every kid’s lunch. Congress should enact a law requiring that all students have a God-given right to a hot lunch.

Before we go so far, I had a couple of ideas that are more subtle, but maybe just as effective.

• One of the issues I deal with is the fact that I don’t sit down and pay bills much anymore. Everything from my house payment to insurance to electric bill is taken out of my checking account automatically.

Thus, I never think about bills anymore; out of sight, out of mind. Surely, school districts could set up an online automatic payment system.

• How about sending an email or making a phone call to late payers? Frankly, that’s the first step at my office. Speaking to someone directly about a late bill seems uncomfortable, but it isn’t as bad as one would think. It’s also extremely effective. It just seems like a phone call requires far less energy than the audacious act of pulling a hot lunch away from a student.

• How about creating a fund to cover the unpaid lunches. As a parent, I’d be happy to donate some money if it meant that a kid who couldn’t pay for lunch could get one.

Yes, it would be annoying if that kid’s parent had the ability to pay. But like many aid programs, the goal is to help the child, regardless of the behavior of the parent.

• All of that said, I really don’t have a problem with Fergus Falls School District’s policy — marking a student’s hand, and offering a cold sandwich to those who can’t pay. If a student gets bullied for a black mark, then the student is likely getting bullied anyway. I’m not condoning bullying. I’m just saying it doesn’t matter. And as for a cold sandwich, I think my daughter gets the sandwich on days when she doesn’t like the hot lunch anyway.

Chicken alfredo isn’t her favorite.


 Joel Myhre is the publisher of the Fergus Falls Journal. Email him at