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Protests Erupt After Wisconsin School District Nixes Free Lunch Program So Kids Don't Get 'Spoiled'

Protests Erupt After Wisconsin School District Nixes Free Lunch Program So Kids Don't Get 'Spoiled'
WISN 12 News/YouTube

Board members of a Wisconsin school district refused to extend their participation in last year's free, federally funded lunch program.

They argued the program was making the students become "spoiled."

According to the state Department of Public Instruction, the Waukesha school district was the only district in the state to opt-out of the pandemic-era lunch program funded by the Department of Agriculture—which gave all students free lunches for the entire school year, regardless of family income.

You can watch the WISN 12 News report, here.

A benefit of the lunch program includes the protection of students and teachers from possibly contracting the viral pathogen responsible for the pandemic. Each meal is individually packaged and served outside without the handling of money.

The program also avoids the stigma that comes with parents needing low-income food options.

Despite administrators opting into the program, Waukesha school board members rejected it.

Board member Karin Rajnicek argued the program made it easy for families to "become spoiled," while Darren Clark—the assistant superintendent for business services—said he feared it would contribute to a "slow addiction."

Joseph Como, president of the Waukesha school board, said at a meeting:

"As we get back to whatever you want to believe normal means, we have decisions to make. I would say this is part of normalization."

School board members chose, instead, to opt for the National School Lunch Program—a pre-pandemic traditional program that offered free and reduced-price lunches to lower-income students. Families, however, must still apply for the program.

Debra Wollin from the state Department of Public Instruction's school nutrition team, strongly urged the board to reconsider, especially since the child hunger rate in Waukesha County increased from 9% in 2019 to 13% in 2020.

In an email to school board members, Wollin wrote:

"Many families who would not normally qualify for free or reduced-price meals may still need assistance for financial hardships that they have experienced this past year."

Sherrie Tussler, executive director of Hunger Task Force, said:

"When children are in your company and it's mealtime, you feed them, … You don't sort them. This gives the district the opportunity to not sort children, to feed them all."
"I would suggest this is either an uninformed or under-informed decision on the part of the school board, … And it should be revisited quickly, because it's going to result in a loss of substantial revenue for the school system, and that revenue could be used to create additional programming or improve the quality of the food on the plate."

Frustrated parents are now fighting to have the board reinstate the universal meal program as many families continue to struggle financially during the pandemic.

You can see a report on the protest against the school board's decision, here.

People protest Waukesha school board's decision to turn down free lunch

Leading the charge is the Alliance for Education in Waukesha, which consists of approximately 900 parents and teachers, who are putting pressure on the school board to reverse their decision.