When Stacy Koltiska took the hot chicken lunch away from a boy and replaced it with a cold cheese sandwich she knew she had to quit.
Thanks to a policy implemented over the summer, the cafeteria worker at Wylandville Elementary School— part of Canon McMillin School District in Western Pennsylvania — was forced to refuse hot meals to any student who owed more than $25 on their lunch accounts.
“The first week of school on Friday, I had to take a little first-grade boy's chicken and give him this ‘cheese sandwich’. I will never forget the look on his face and then his eyes welled up with tears,” Koltiska wrote in a Facebook post that has been shared more than 5,000 times.
What’s more, the school charges the families for the hot meals that their children are being denied because of delinquent payments, she said in her post.
“What makes this even MORE SICKENING is that we throw so much food away EVERYDAY. So Our Children are being served cheese, being charged and denied the hot food that we then throw away,” she wrote.
The school district passed the policy, 808.1, over the summer in the hopes it could recoup some of the money owed to the district because of delinquent lunch account payments. Students in K-6 with past due accounts receive a cold cheese sandwich; state law mandates all elementary-aged children receive lunch. Students in 7-12 receive nothing to eat if their lunch accounts have outstanding balances.
Superintendent Michael Daniels did not answer questions from TODAY but shared a statement, which reads in part:
"The Canon-McMillan School District does not take lunches away from students. Policy 808.1 —Charging of Cafeteria Meals, is a standard policy for utilizing credit for school lunch purchases. This policy does not change the availability of food options for students that existed prior to cafeteria credit programs, it only changes the ability to continuously overdraw a school lunch credit account. This policy does not apply to students who are eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch .... "
Daniels told Action News 4 WTAE that more than 300 families owed anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000 in back lunch payments annually. Since the start of the school year, fewer than 70 families owed money, which amounts to less than $20,000.
But Koltiska worries that the policy shames students.
“I’m not saying the parents shouldn’t be held accountable, but I think there has to be a better way than involving the children,” she told Action News 4 WTAE.
Yet the district's statement indicates that the experience was a misunderstanding.
"The District apologizes to its families for the misapplication of the policy by a former cafeteria worker. The Board is currently reviewing this Policy to ensure no employee misinterprets or misapplies the policy in the future."