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School lunch in trash triggers policy review

Changing cafeteria procedures and possibly reviving the county’s participation in Governor’s School dominated discussion during Thursday’s special called meeting of the Halifax County School Board. 

Members held the meeting to revisit and clarify items discussed during the January school board meeting and to consider new possibilities for students’ education.

Addressed first Thursday evening were accusations made by concerned parent Lisa Hatcher of Scottsburg who blamed cafeteria workers for tossing her daughter’s lunch in the trash and feeding her crackers and water because they said she owed a lunch fee debt exceeding $5.

Hatcher told board members the incident occurred Dec. 11 when her daughter went through the lunch line at Halifax County Middle School and was unable to receive a hot lunch.

“When she put in her lunch code, the cafeteria worker proceeded to inform her that she owed $5.25 and could not charge her lunch. She, being the cafeteria person, threw the lunch in the garbage and then offered my child crackers and water,” said Hatcher.

Later that day, Hatcher said she learned her child only owed $3.40 in lunch fees. 

Hatcher requested the school board review the recently implemented policy of discarding students’ lunches, so that similar situations do not occur in the future.

“It is one thing when this board targets adults and takes away retirement and quite another when they target children and take away lunches. It is incomprehensible when you all would target children to embarrass and humiliate,” added the upset parent.

ED-4 trustee Cheryl Terry said board members should consider another way of handling the unpaid lunch fee problems other than by throwing away the students’ lunches.

Chairman Kimberly Farson pointed out the procedure was not implemented or approved by the school board.

Contrary to what the community believes, Farson said administration put this “procedure” in place.

“I have a problem with the way it’s handled…with the humiliation of the child, We’re not going to let the child have it, but we’ll throw it away,” said ED-2 trustee Karen Hopkins.

According to Terry, nearly $40,000 in cafeteria expenses was attributed to unpaid lunches prompting administrators to implement the new procedure this year. 

However, ED-8 trustee Walter Potts said he didn’t mind funding the extra expense if it meant feeding the children.

“I say we come back in February…March with some suggestions,” said ED-7 trustee R. K. “Dick” Stoneman.

Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon suggested board members bring discussions to the March meeting, and in the meantime, she and other administrators will talk to principals in an effort to find a more appropriate solution to the unpaid meal fee problem.

In other business, Hopkins asked the board to revisit the county’s participation in the Governor’s School of Southside Virginia.

Hopkins told board members that of the 12 divisions eligible, 11 participate in the program. 

“Why not Halifax?” questioned Hopkins.

Director of Secondary Education/Accountability Frosty Owens updated board members on changes in Governor’s School since the county last participated in 2010.

Governor’s School now offers two strands, humanities and STEM. The humanities strand costs $5,077 per student as a junior, and the STEM strand costs $1,892 per student.

“Do we want to get involved? How many slots do we want to pay for? And we have to realize, that it’ll be double next year,” said Owens explaining the first class of juniors will become seniors, and another group of juniors will be eligible to attend.

The Governor’s School program, designed for talented and gifted students, requires a rigorous application and testing process that takes up to two days each year.

Southern Virginia Higher Education Center Executive Director Betty Adams said she was “thrilled” the board members were discussing the possibilities of county students participating once again in Governor’s School and the number of options it provides.

“We can be a satellite, an affiliate or a an opportunity based on the desire taking into establishing your own Governor’s School here. (We’re) very interested in open dialogue, in how you see fit,” said Adams.

Herndon said the biggest concern going forward with implementing the program will be providing transportation to and from the school. 

“We will explore options. It doesn’t cost anything to discuss,” said Farson.

Board members formed a committee to meet with SVCC where the Governor’s School program is currently available.

Appointed to the committee were trustees Terry and Hopkins along with members of central office staff who are charged with discussing the possible Governor’s School options that could be made available here.

Board members also briefly reviewed the reduction in force policy “for clarification purposes.”

Director of Elementary Education/Professional Development Linda Owen said the performance evaluation system now has a support dialogue available for teachers.

“It is not to be seen as negativity,” said ED-5 trustee Roger Long.

Stoneman shared with board members information he received while attending a session on parliamentary procedures in Richmond.

Board members unanimously approved the sequestration resolution, where the federal education programs face an estimated 5.9 percent budget cut this year unless Congress intervenes. 

“Sequestration” is a process of automatic, largely across-the-board spending reductions to meet or enforce certain budget policy goals. 

The school board adopted the resolution urging Congress to stop these across-the-board cuts that would have a detrimental impact upon the school district.