Anya Howard had one of her most humiliating experiences as she was made to return the food served to her and asked to walk to the back of the line for an alternate lunch.
A 6-year-old girl in Indiana was reportedly "lunch-shamed" after she was forced to return her hot meal due to insufficient funds in her lunch account to pay for the $2.25 meal. The kindergartener in question, Anya Howard, had to then walk past her peers to the end of the line to get herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The humiliating "walk of shame" turned out to be a traumatic experience for Anya as her classmates laughed at her which left her and her family incredibly upset.
Indiana district's policy on unpaid student cafeteria bills under scrutiny after kindergartener ‘lunch shamed,' forced to return hot meal over low cafeteria balance https://t.co/y7miMVL8xG— Brad Hughes (@GYMObrad) May 23, 2019
Speaking to WISH about the incident that occurred at the Southwest Elementary School in Greenwood, Indiana, on May 17, Anya said, "When I went to do my number, they told me that I needed to give my food back to Ms. Jenny." The child revealed that having to walk back to the end of the lunch line to wait for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich—instead of the hot meal her peers were enjoying—made her "sad" as several of her classmates laughed at her.
Anya is said to have had to walk past about 20 other children of her age to reach the end of the line while many were making comments about her payment troubles. Dwight Howard, the kindergartner's grandfather, argued that the "cafeteria walk of shame" was unnecessary and must've been a humiliating experience for the little girl. "When she was talking to me about it, she was more than 'sad.' I mean, that's embarrassing for a little 6-year-old," he said.
The 6-year-old wasn't the only student made to return their hot meal for lack of funds. Anya revealed that she was joined by another equally embarrassed child who also had to endure the mockery of their peers. "They were laughing at us," the kindergartner recalled. A note received by Anya's family the same day of the lunch shaming incident stated that her cafeteria credit had dipped to $0.10. Howard claimed they weren't previously informed of the kindergartener's account status and that this was irresponsible behavior exhibited by the school.
"They waited until there was a dime left, denied her the opportunity to eat the lunch that she had [been served and tried to pay for] and then she had to go to the end of the line to wait for a PB&J," said the furious grandfather, a former teacher himself. However, Dr. Kent DeKoninck, the Greenwood Community Schools superintendent, claimed parents are issued payment reminders when their child's lunch account only has $5 remaining.
"It is not an uncommon occurrence for multiple students to be served the alternate lunch on any given day. Any time this happens, our staff looks to handle all of these as discreetly as possible... We do allow elementary students to charge two hot meals before receiving the alternate meal," he said in a statement. Contrary to DeKoninck's statements, a note stapled to the back of Anya's payment reminder stated that starting May 13, Southwest Elementary would no longer allow students to charge any meals once their lunch account funds run out.
"Starting Monday 5/13/2019 we are no longer allowing any Café accounts to go into the negative. If there is not enough money in your child's account to cover the entire meal, they will be receiving a peanut butter sandwich and a milk," stated the note. As news of Anya's traumatic lunch experience spread—bringing negative attention to the district—DeKoninck informed the Indianapolis Star that the cold-sandwich policy would be suspended for the time being.
I am proud to unveil, with Rep. @Ilhan Omar, a bill to ensure that every child in America has access to school meals.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) October 15, 2019
In the richest country in the history of the world, we must not tolerate the obscenity of kids going hungry while they're trying to learn. pic.twitter.com/UnBhOW1cDd
As there were only a couple of days left for summer break at the time, he stated the district wouldn't worry "about the next two days. We are not making that an issue with regard to lunches." Although he also claimed that media reports of the incident were not entirely accurate, he failed to comment further on the alleged misreporting. The superintendent did, however, go on to reveal that he'd met with Anya's family and that the school and the family are now on the same page. "They have a better understanding of the events that actually happened and we're in a good spot. We came to a real good understanding of the situation," he said. DeKoninck added that the school district plans to review its meal charging policy to see how things can be handled better.