About a dozen Monroe County Community School Corporation parents and students met at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard Wednesday night to prepare for next week’s school board meeting on the district’s lunch policy.
It was supposed to be an opportunity to write letters and organize comments ahead of the upcoming school board meeting.
District officials were not invited to the meeting, but Superintendent Judy DeMuth and board president Martha Street showed up.
The meeting quickly got heated when Street said the district’s current policy to offer alternate meals of peanut butter and jelly or cheese sandwiches after giving a non-paying student three hot meals “becomes a learning experience.”
“I am not inclined to be reasonable at this point…I don’t think it’s fair that you throw this back onto the community.”
“We’re in Bloomington, Indiana. We’re a progressive community. Your first concern should be the welfare of that child,” said Hoosier Hills Food Bank Executive Director Julio Alonso.
“And we have set up a fund to do that,” Street said, referring to an account the district has established so community members can donate money to help kids who have student lunch debt.
“In a $119 million budget you cannot find the money to make this happen?” Alonso asked. “To take that element away, to take that child out of this equation entirely? I came here tonight because I wanted to hear what everyone else was going to say because I wanted to know what I should say. I am not inclined to be reasonable at this point. Because I tried that with you. Five school board members ignored me completely and Dr. DeMuth’s suggestion was I contribute to the fund, which I did. But I don’t think it’s fair that you throw this back onto the community.”
“But it will work,” Street said.
The district can’t use federal dollars to cover lunch debt so it has to come out of the district’s general fund, possibly affecting teacher salaries and education programming.
“The thing that I learned this evening and that we all know is that Bloomington is a wonderful community and we all care about our children.”
Federal guidelines require the district have a lunch debt policy in writing by July 1. The district approved its current policy in May.
“A policy did originate by order of the federal government to cover the debt of the student lunch program,” DeMuth said. “And we had a timeline and put a policy together that really reflected the practices that are currently in place. The thing that I learned this evening and that we all know is that Bloomington is a wonderful community and we all care about our children.”
In an email following Wednesday night’s meeting, Amanda Nickey, Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard President & Chief Executive Officer said she didn’t ask DeMuth and Street to leave the meeting because she had hoped they would “add to the discussion in a reasonable way.”
“I want to make this clear because I, and others at the meeting [Wednesday], have written to the board and Dr. DeMuth on several occasions to ask questions, get more data, and share best practices from around the country,” Nickey wrote in the email. “We’ve heard nothing in response to these messages from Martha Street and only suggestions we donate to the fund from Dr. DeMuth. They have had opportunities to provide information to us and have refused or ignored us. Tonight’s meeting was not the place to finally feel like talking.”
Advocates plan to address the school board June 27.
Sara Wittmeyer contributed to this report. This post has been updated.