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Apologies come after school lunch tossed in trash

Halifax County School Board members apologized to parents, students and the community Monday night for a procedure administration put in place earlier this school year instructing cafeteria workers to trash lunches of students who had exceeded a $5 meal fee debt.

The apology came after a parent brought a particular incident of a middle school cafeteria worker trashing a student’s lunch to the board’s attention during the January school board meeting.

Concerned parent Lisa Hatcher of Scottsburg accused cafeteria workers of 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 the 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.

During a special called meeting Jan. 31, board members expressed their concern and asked Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon to speak with principals about alternative ways to address the situation.

Administration suspended the crackers and water procedure immediately following last month’s meeting.

ED-8 trustee Walter Potts asked to be added to the citizen comment portion of the agenda Monday evening, saying he felt “very serious” about the board offering an apology.

“It’s something that the board needs to do…I believe we should give a sincere apology to the parents, children and the county,” said Potts.

In the form of a motion with a second from ED-7 trustee R. K. “Dick” Stoneman, the motion was unanimously approved by the board.

Herndon who also asked to be added to the citizen comment portion of the agenda Monday evening explained administrators are looking into other ways of sending the information home other than by the students.

“We’ve suspended the procedures we were using,” said Herndon.

Administration is looking into better means of alerting the parents, and they will “go from there,” she said.

In other business Monday, Cluster Springs and South Boston/Halifax Early Learning Centers Principal Priscilla Price presented a PowerPoint presentation explaining the two early learning centers enroll early childhood education and preK students, and teachers and staff are “inspiring tomorrow’s leaders.”

Herndon presented board members with a goody bag of letters from students and a letter from the governor recognizing them during Virginia School Board Association School Board Member Appreciation Month. 

Chairman Kimberly Farson presented School Board Clerks Robin Mahan and Joyce Townes with bags in recognition of VSBA School Board Clerk Appreciation Week.

Director of Operations and Maintenance Larry Roller presented a facilities maintenance work summary to board members.

 According to Roller, he is down three workers compared to 2006 but has an increased workload. The employees received 7,584 work orders between Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2012 and completed 7,400 with a total work hours of 28,515.

Under new business, board members approved the budget timeline and approved moving the minutes, financial report and payment of bills to the consent agenda. 

Potts also asked if Herndon could offer information on the Virginia State University initiative at the next board meeting.

According to Potts, Virginia State came to Halifax County last spring and offered their services to start a program similar to the dual enrollment program or to work along with the dual enrollment program.

“Where is it at this present time? Can we bring some of that information to the next meeting?” asked Potts.

Herndon responded to Potts’ request saying she would present that information during the March meeting.

Board members also unanimously approved the consent agenda, which included approving Herndon to attend the Women Education Leaders in Virginia Conference scheduled for March 21-22 in Charlottesville at a cost of $480. Herndon has been asked to serve on the Career Path panel on March 22.

Board members went into closed session to discuss student discipline and personnel.

After emerging from closed session, school board members took the following actions:

Approved three requests to return to school in alternative education following expulsions;

 Suspended a student from school until Feb. 15;

 Suspended six students long-term with alternative education services provided for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year with no extracurricular activities nor allowance on school property;

 Suspended a student for the rest of the school year with alternative education services; and

 Allowed a student to return to school following suspension on Feb. 12.