SADOW: How Caddo Parish Schools Can Deal With Deadbeat Parents

School’s out for the academic year, but there’s a bit of homework still for the Caddo Parish School District and parents of school children everywhere. In a culture, reinforced by the prevailing ethos coming from the White House over the past four years, that keeps telling us others are to blame so that the poor choices we make that absolve us from responsibility for them, comes a specific example in controversy over the Caddo’s quasi-policy over responsibility for paying for schools meals that also suggests improvement on the part of the district.

This spring, a child at University Elementary found he had come up short in money for lunch, which costs $1.60. In response, his mother said the cafeteria “did not give him anything but two pieces of bread and a slice of cheese.” She then became further perturbed when she discovered there was no explicit policy for schools to give away food on credit, and found a sympathetic media outlet to publicize her grievance.

As it turns out, nine points of this episode dictates it ever got any attention only because of the fashionability of failure to take responsibility and thrusting onto something else. Even the parent admits it was her responsibility to keep the card, a program in which parents may enroll their children to pay for meals for any Caddo school, with sufficient funds, but then complained the school’s response wasn’t enough given the situation.

Actually, the fare on which her son lunched that was provided back in my day was referred to, and perhaps still is, a “cheese sandwich.” In those good old days, my mother would grill a pair up at breakfast, toss one each along with a bag of chips and something like a container of milk or juice into a sack, one for me and one for my brother (maybe for me deviled ham or for him peanut butter instead), and we were set for the day at school – pretty much each school day for 13 years. So it’s hard to argue that the school’s counteroffer was really all that inadequate.

True enough, she said her son might be unusually affected by a lower calories count than usual because she says he suffers from acid reflux disease. But it was not the school that caused aggravation of that condition if that were an outcome, it was her negligence.

That becomes increasingly apparent especially when the card program is so easy to manage. It can be done online (there’s even a phone app for it), parents have access to the balances and can set up an alert when it drops below a certain level. Or, there’s always the low-tech way of keeping track – have the child note the balance when presented it back after use. And, there’s a low-tech solution for the entire issue – have the child provided a sack lunch.

Had this involved an adult only, it would be enough to note that the school acted entirely reasonably and the complaint was way overblown. Still, the point does remain that it involved a child, and here school or Caddo policy might make some tweaks for next year, because even if the parent was at fault and was then entirely boorish to try to shift the blame, it should try to mitigate victimization of the child even if it bore no responsibility by its actions.

First, being that it is so easy to add money to the card, Caddo should create a procedure where if that happens, voluntarily a parent may be requested to be contacted and within minutes the payment problem could be resolved. Second, the school could publicize special lending programs that may exist at each school or through their parent-teacher associations for these kinds of situations.

Third, the district should increase awareness of the federal free meal option. Like it or not, it is not difficult to qualify for (a single parent making less than $26,955 could qualify a child, with every additional child or family member adding $6,919 to the cutoff) which is why at University 41 percent of students qualify and district- and state-wide it’s almost two-thirds of them.

Finally, it should emulate the Bossier Parish School District, which serves up a full meal and sends an “owe note” along with the child caught short. School officials said they get stiffed that way so did not offer that option to the boy, but if the district (and state if need be) issued a regulation that said no student would advance a grade until all past obligations were made good, including chits from cafeterias, that could ensure a high compliance rate and prevent unscrupulous parents from trying to game the system.

All in all, this event unfortunately gave another example about how the culture continues to drift away from acknowledging responsibility and accepting consequences. At the same time, on this issue Caddo schools can improve in shielding children from poor parental choices.

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