Denying Kids Lunch? Not Cool, Whitsons Says

Children denied lunch because they had no money in their prepaid accounts.

By Paul King, Editorial Director

The controversy over unpaid lunch accounts hit a low last month when several foodservice employees in the Attleboro (Mass.) School District were disciplined for denying children lunch because they had no money in their prepaid accounts. The workers were employees of Whitsons Culinary Group at Coelho Middle School.

According to The Boston Globe, about 25 students were turned away by cashiers when their accounts couldn’t cover the $2.40 meal. When Whitsons executives learned of the incident, an unidentified number of employees were disciplined. Some reportedly were fired.

“Please be assured that the individuals responsible for this were acting on their own and not under the direction of Whitsons School Nutrition,” read a statement released by the company. “Whitsons apologizes for this incident and wishes to assure the community of Attleboro that we are investigating and handling the incident in accordance with our human resource policies. In the meantime, you can be assured that no child will be denied a meal, regardless of outstanding balances.”

According to the company, the school district is responsible for administering the prepaid accounts and going after parents whose children’s funds are running low. Whitsons’ standard practice in Attleboro is to allow students to have a meal even if their accounts are bare. Once a child receives five “free” meals in a row, Whitsons notifies the district, which in turn contacts the parents. In the meantime, students are supposed to receive an alternate meal, which usually is a cheese sandwich along with fruit, vegetable and milk.

To Whitsons’ credit, not only did it act quickly to correct the situation, it also worked some PR magic by offering all students free meals for several days the following week after the incident. It also planned to host a goodwill cookout to which students and their parents would be invited.