Monday, June 18, 2007

What does a cheese sandwich mean?

If you're a kid in Chula Vista, California, a cheese sandwich as your lunch option means your parents haven't paid your lunch tab. It's the punishment food. I don't recall this being a problem when I was in public school. I brought my lunch. But apparently in Chula Vista, kids can run up a tab for lunch, and if it exceeds $5, the kid gets a cheese sandwich rather than what other kids are eating.

Cheese sandwiches and other "alternate meals" have been added to menus in school districts across the country as they try to take a bite out of parents' lunch debts.The strategy worked in Chula Vista: Lunch debts in the district fell from about $300,000 in 2004 to $67,000 in 2006.

Some angry parents say success came at too high a cost, however.The cheese sandwich, they say, has become a badge of shame for the children, who get teased about it by their classmates. One student cried when her macaroni and cheese was replaced with a sandwich. A little girl hid in a restroom to avoid getting one. Many of the sandwiches end up untouched or tossed whole in the garbage. Sometimes kids pound them to pieces.
Read On the School Menus: Cheese Sandwich, parental debt for more details on this "compassionate" stigma.