Stacy Koltiska was happy working in an elementary school cafeteria. But after a new policy dictated that any student with a balance of at least $25 would be denied a hot lunch, she was troubled enough to quit after two years on the job.
Rule 808.1 states that any child in grades 7-12 whose parents owe $25 or more will not receive a lunch at all; those in grades K-6 can charge an "alternate lunch." In these instances, cafeteria workers at the school were told to give out a cold sandwich consisting of one piece of cheese on bread.
Koltiska told NBC News she finds it "shameful."
“I have no problem holding parents accountable, but kids need the energy to focus throughout the day,” Koltiska said Wednesday. “Don’t our children have enough to deal with?”
“[Students] are being given One Piece of Cheese on Bread. This isn't even being toasted. Yet they are still being charged the FULL PRICE of a HOT LUNCH that is being DEINIED (sic) to them,” she wrote.
Koltiska was forced to take a first grade boy’s hot meal and give him the cheese sandwich. “I will never forget the look on his face and then his eyes welled up with tears," she added.
In her post, which has received thousands of shares, Koltiska urged those upset with the policy to e-mail the school superintendent and director of business and finance. Superintendent of Schools Michael W. Daniels did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.
Daniels informed Action News 4 WTAE that the policy was not intended to shame children and has been effective in cutting the debt down from 300 families owing between $60,000 and $100,000 a year to 70 families owing $20,000.
Koltiska suggested raising the income eligibility for free and reduced lunch as an alternative to taking lunches away from students. The maximum income for a household size of one to qualify for the program is $21,978 per year. Or, she told NBC News, “maybe call that family and ask if there are any special circumstances. You never know what’s going on.”
In 2014, NBC 10 reported that Smithville Elementary School in Galloway Township, New Jersey, took and threw away a 10 year old autistic boy’s lunch several times over unpaid balances. Dr. Annette Giaquinto, the superintendent of Galloway Township Public Schools, defended the practice. “Well, I believe there are certain times when I think you need to take certain measures," she said at the time. "I know that sounds cold...is it a practice I love? No."
The same year, the Salt Lake school district in Utah made headlines for throwing away the lunches of as many as 40 elementary school students. Jason Olsen, a spokesman for the district, apologized and said it was a mistake that the food was taken away once the students already went through the line.
Koltiska condemned the trend. “Shame on it if it’s happening everywhere,” she said.