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School Employee Fired After Buying Child Lunch

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Published on: June 4, 2015

How far has this country fallen when an act of charity and good will gets someone fired? It happened to Della Curry, a Colorado woman who worked at Dakota Valley Elementary School in Aurora, CO, part of the Cherry Creek School District, after she bought lunch for an elementary first grade student who was in line crying because she had forgotten her lunch money. Curry had worked as the kitchen manager for the school until the incident last week that resulted in her being fired. She admits that “she broke the law,” but that the law needed to be changed.

Broke the law? Did the federal government or the State of Colorado pass a “law” that states school employees cannot buy any school child lunch, with their own money, if that child was crying, had a negative balance, was hungry, etc.? Curry performed an act of charity and good will. Is there now a law against that? Is being charitable now a reason for termination?

Ms. Curry told the Denver Post, “It is policy to never give out free food … that is fine and dandy until you have little kids not on the free and reduced program and their account goes negative.”

During the past school year, she said she handed out about 20 hot lunches to kids who didn’t qualify for free lunch.

“I knew the whole time is was a firing offense,” she said. “Somebody told my supervisors what I had done, and it is immediate termination. I will take that if we can change the rules.”

So, it’s not a law, but a policy that will get you terminated. A school employee cannot perform an act of charity to provide a child a meal, who is emotionally upset about not having money for lunch, with their own money to ease that child. That’s a very caring school district.

According to KCNC-TV out of Denver, “In the district, students who fail to qualify for the free lunch or reduced lunch program receive one slice of cheese on a hamburger bun, and a small milk. Curry does not believe that is a sufficient meal for young children, so she, many times, paid for their lunch out of her own pocket.

The Cherry Creek School District released a statement on its website addressing this incident. In its statement, the school district stated that “inaccurate information has been provided to the media by a former Cherry Creek School District employee.” The statement maintains that the district has a plan in place that provides every student with a nutritious meal regardless of the ability to pay.

We reiterate again that no child is allowed to go without food. Students who are on the free and reduced meal program always receive a full and free meal. Students who do not qualify for a Free and Reduced lunch can receive 3 meals prior to receiving an alternate meal such as turkey, chicken, or cheese sandwich.

As a student’s account becomes negative, parents receive a daily automated call until the account is brought whole. We are always willing to work with families to find a solution if there is an inability to pay.

It has not been made clear whether the child had already received their “courtesy 3 meals” when Curry stepped in; but does that really matter? Ms. Curry helped a child in distress – a child crying over not having money for lunch. A firing offense it is not.

KCNC-TV indicated that in order to qualify for the free lunch program, “a family of four would have to have a household income of around $31,000. To qualify for a reduced lunch, the threshold is below $45,000.”

Ms. Curry indicated the children she helped did not qualify for either program.

“Kids whose parents make too much money to qualify, but a lot of times they don’t have enough money to eat,” Curry told KCNC-TV.

Darnell Hill, parent of a student who was helped by Ms. Curry, stated, “Do something different than fire her. She’s trying to help.”

In a statement released by the Cherry Creek School District in regards to the TV news story, the school district stated, “The law does not require the school district to provide the meal to children who have forgotten their lunch money. That is a district decision. According to our practice, we provide hot meals to students the first three times they forget their lunch money and charge their parents’ accounts. The fourth time, we provide a cheese sandwich and a milk.”

The school district’s statement is interesting. According to the statement, “the law” doesn’t require them to provide a child a meal when they’ve forgotten their lunch money, but, the district, out of the goodness of its heart, provides up to 3 meals to students in that situation then charges the parents for each meal. If their account is negative and unpaid, the school contacts the parents “daily” until the balance is paid while providing the child a cheese sandwich and milk.

The district states it works to keep lunch prices low while still meeting the “federal requirements.” The prices charged for the school lunches do not cover the cost of the program, per the district. However, the school admits that unpaid accounts at the end of the year are “covered by the general fund which also includes instruction, security, building maintenance and overall operations.”

Parents’ tax dollars are going to support the school lunch program – the revamped “appetizing” lunches forced down the throats of every taxpayer thanks to Michelle Obama. With what the schools are serving these days, it’s apparent the schools aren’t spending adequate money on food for children and supposedly “can’t.” This past May, Denver school administrators got a “taste” of what school children were being offered by the school lunch program.

So, if taxpayers are contributing to the school lunch program and unpaid accounts are “covered by the general fund” at the end of the year, what is the reason for the “3 strikes and you’re out” policy leading to a cheese sandwich and milk? Is it a way to shame children for forgetting so their parents “pay up?” Only the school district knows the answer to that one. Firing an employee for relieving a child’s distress for not having lunch money is going a bit overboard in policy.

It reminds me of a situation involving a school in Florida and one of my grandchildren. On her first day of school – first day in Kindergarten, mind you – my grand-daughter forgot to get her lunch after the teacher had told the children to get their lunches, if they brought their lunch, so they could go to the lunchroom. Excitement, nervousness and a new environment can distract children from truly hearing and understanding what is going on. When my grand-daughter realized she didn’t have her lunch and the class was attending lunch, the teacher refused to let her go get it, instead of giving the child a school lunch she wouldn’t eat and then charging my daughter for it.

When my daughter contacted the teacher upon seeing the charge on her account that day, the teacher stated she was “following the rules.” She told my daughter that she instructed the children to get their lunch – once. It caused stress for my grand-daughter when the teacher refused saying something to the effect of “You were told to get your lunch and you aren’t allowed to get it now.”

I understand about rules. However, the first day of school, ever, for a 5 year old and giving instructions only once is not adequate in that scenario for any child. Many times, children have to be reminded more than once just because they are children. In fact, many adults have to have the same multiple reminders.

The point being made here is the schools have become more about “following rules” than actually “teaching and caring for children.” Make no mistake, while the children are in school, the school has the responsibility for their care. What is so wrong for any school employee to relieve a child’s distress? It certainly is not a reason for termination.

The school district has maintained Ms. Curry was not fired because of these incidents and by law, cannot release the termination reason without her approval, which she has not given. However, it does look rather condemning that she was fired after paying for a child’s lunch that forgot their lunch money.

Some may say the parents of these children who Ms. Curry have helped are “lazy,” “spending their resources poorly,” “not thinking of the child first,” and so on. Until a mile has been walked in these parents’ shoes, it’s just speculation. Ms. Curry didn’t worry about that as it was the child’s distress that was more important. It was an act of compassion and humanity – qualities more individuals should have. When we lose our compassion and humanity, we truly become a nation of sad individuals.

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