Today I asked my son what he had for for lunch at his Swedish preschool. Initially he was a bit confused and explained that he had a sandwich (open faced with lactose free butter, cheese, and some ham) as well as fruit and some lactose free milk. In case you are wondering, we did ask them to keep him lactose free — they listen! Once I clarified that I was talking about his lunch and not his afternoon snack, he told me he had a really tasty pasta with a vegetarian sauce. There was also a morning snack of fresh fruit around 10am and often there is a fresh smoothie or homemade applesauce with cream. You may wonder just how much I pay for this bounty of healthy and delicious food that my son happily eats throughout the day. Truthfully, it is all included in the $120 or so that we pay each month for his spot in preschool. Once children enter elementary school, all schooling and meals are free.
How then does this opening paragraph relate to the title of this blog?
Well, let’s talk about it. I read this article recently about a young man in the United States who at the age of 14 took a carton of milk from the lunchroom without paying. Before opening it, he was intercepted by the school resource officer who tried to make him take the carton to the principal and confess to stealing it. He tossed it back in the case and resisted going to the principal. His contention? He didn’t steal it. He is enrolled in the need based free lunch program and simply forgot to pick up his milk when he went through the line. Rather than queuing back up, he popped into the line, grabbed the milk, and went back to his seat.
Unfortunately, rather than let the boy have the milk and move on, the school decided to pursue punishment of the boy (who never did get to drink that milk). They did not give him after school detention that day, but instead had him “arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and petit larceny”. He was then offered an alternative, non judicial punishment. His mother, appropriately in my opinion, disagreed. She argued that no punishment was acceptable because he is entitled to a carton of milk with his free lunch. I ask you, how is this okay? Just for arguments sake, even if he did lie and was taking a second carton of milk, why make it into such a big deal? Why make a teenager, who had purportedly never been in trouble before, a criminal?
Schools are supposed to be a safe haven where we provide youth with the information and skills they need to help them succeed. How does that ideal fit into this scenario? It doesn’t.
Now, I don’t have all the facts on this and I don’t know any of the involved parties. However, as a citizen of the United States, I would rather provide that boy with a carton of milk free of charge than pay for a trial. I would rather he get a bit of extra calcium than decide that our justice system is against him and schools are not to be trusted. The teen years are a scary time. Life is changing rapidly for these kids. We should support them at times like this, not penalize them.
I should add that this article isn’t the only one I read involving lunches in the past week that made me angry. The first article, which you can read here, involved a school lunch room employee who quit her job after being forced to take away a hot lunch from an elementary school child whose parents had an outstanding lunch bill with the school. After taking away his hot lunch, she had to provide him with a cold cheese sandwich, piece of fruit, and a milk. On the surface, this is not a bad lunch, but it is not a lunch available to the other children. This makes it readily apparent to everyone that these children have parents that owe the school money. To add insult to injury, in this particular instance, the employee had to throw the hot lunch in the trash because it could not be served to another child. So, rather than allow the child to have the food that was mistakenly given, the school directed her to waste it. To throw it away… The trash bin was seen as a better option than a child’s stomach.
Something is going wrong in our public schools. This is just not right. Children should not be treated as pariahs in a place that is supposed to help them grow and they certainly should not be arrested for taking a carton of milk.
Now contrast this with my son’s experience at his preschool and the experience of all school students in Sweden. According to this article, the law mandates that children must be provided a lunch, free of charge. Clearly someone in Sweden read articles like this one that report eating a healthy lunch helps children learn. Every day, students in this country are provided with freshly cooked, healthy meals that help them to grow and learn. Meals that are free of charge to their parents.
Why is it acceptable in our country for billionaire’s to exploit tax loopholes, but unacceptable to provide children with healthy, free meals at school? What will become of these kids for whom food is a privilege and not a right? What will become of our country when we value money more than helping our children grow into healthy, productive citizens? I tried to research myself to find out how much it would cost our country to provide free lunches to all school children. Unfortunately, I found out that school lunch prices are set by individual school districts, so there is no set price to base my calculations.
If we truly are a pro-life society, it’s time to value the lives of the children who come into the world, rather than criminals over a carton of milk. End of rant.
Until next time…