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Wisconsin School Board Reinstates Free Lunch Program By Razor Thin Margin After Backlash

Wisconsin School Board Reinstates Free Lunch Program By Razor Thin Margin After Backlash

In April, the Biden administration implemented a free-meal program through the US Department of Agriculture for grades K-12. The program allowed any child to have free meals regardless of income.

The school board in Waukesha, Wisconsin chose to opt out of the program in June.

The reason they opted out was because a school board member thought the children would become "spoiled" by having guaranteed access to food.

During a May meeting, Board member Karin Rajnicek said:

"I had three kids. I had them and so I'm going to feed them. I feel like that's the responsibility of the adult."
"I feel like this is a big problem, and it's really easy to get sucked into and become spoiled and think, 'It's not my problem anymore—it's everyone else's problem to feed my children.'"

Waukesha district CFO Darren Clark agreed:

"That's my fear is that it's the slow addiction of this service."
"There is that concern—free is a funny thing."

Superintendent James Sebert asked the Waukesha school board to reconsider after feedback the district did in fact need the program. Board President Joseph Como claimed he didn't realize there was a hunger issue in their district.

Parents in the district spoke out about the boards choice to go back to the National School Lunch Program, which required parents to submit an application and qualify for free or reduced-price food for children.

Parent Heidi Chada told Milwaukee's NPR:

"My question is: Why are we the only [school district] who is opting out and saying eating a meal every day at school is not important for the health of our students?"

The Alliance for Education in Waukesha held a protest where adults and kids held signs like "Food is a Right, Not a Privilege," "You have ONE job... Protect Our Kids," and "Starving for Change."

Data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction showed 36% of the student body was eligible for a free or reduced lunch program in the Waukesha district in the 2018-19 school year.

According to the Milwaukie Journal Sentinel, Joseph Como said:

"I appreciate your input very much."
"I eat every meal every day. I cannot relate to being hungry. I've been blessed."

Board member Greg Deets shared his initial votes against the program were uninformed:

"I made the earlier votes without really looking at all the implications and I wasn't really informed and I apologize for that."
"The truth is that many of our students are hungry throughout the school day and we have the ability to do something about that."

The board barely passed the new free meal program with a 5-4 vote.

Board member Kelly Piacsek was still firmly against the program:

"It's time for parents and community members to start paying attention to the forces at work here."
"When the federal government is responsible for feeding all students at all times regardless of need, they have ultimate authority and we don't need local school boards anymore."

Piacsek was interrupted by applause when she said this wasn't "about food anymore."

She continued:

"This is how we got [Critical Race Theory] and filthy books and vaccine and mask mandates, all this stuff."

Board member Anthony Zenobia was also against it:

"If it's food and free lunch today, it will be forced masking, forced whatever-we-want-to-do in schools because the mob will have the power to tell us what to do."

The "mob" Zenobia referred to were the parents and children in their school district.

Since the board members made headlines on the matter, they've gotten major backlash.

The USDA estimated nearly 12 million kids who were food insecure during the pandemic will be reached through this program. It's been extended past the original September 30 deadline.