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Fermenting Discord

It's a story that could make even a dairy farmer cry.


Breaking news from the Los Angeles Times: “When too many parents fell behind on paying for school lunches, the Chula Vista Elementary School District decided to get tough — on the children.”  By replacing their beloved pizza with cheese sandwiches.


Kids and parents have been cheesed off since district schools started issuing “alternate meals” to children whose parents fail to pay lunch bills.  The Times lends a sympathetic ear to the kids' cheesy plight – but isn't the Times pointing the finger at the wrong party?  Aren't parents responsible for providing for their children? 


The problem isn't poverty.  The majority of the people behind in payments are well-to-do parents who fail to pay the lunch bill out of negligence. 


In consequence, the kids are paying a high price in humiliation.  The sandwiches, viewed by many kids as a “badge of shame,” curdle up lumps of emotional travail in young hearts. “One student cried when her macaroni and cheese was replaced with a sandwich. A little girl hid in a restroom to avoid getting one,” reports the Times


Sounds harsh, but something had to be done.  Lunch debts in just one district spun out of control to $300,000 in 2004, but now they're down to $67,000. Because of the shortfall, Chula Vista was facing “cuts in classroom equipment and books.” Parents were ignoring warning letters. “When we did nothing, there was no incentive to pay,” district assistant superintendent Dennis Doyle told the Times. 


Nevertheless, the Times showcases parents who put the blame on the school district for the cheesy collection scheme.   “Some angry parents say success came at too high a cost, however.” 


“One Chula Vista third-grader, whose mother requested that the girl not be identified, said students sometimes ostracize the cheese sandwich kids, switching tables and talking behind their backs. 'Some kids say they're not the kind of kids you want to hang out with,' she said.”


No parent wants his child to become a social pariah over a cheese sandwich, but these parents have the funds to control the situation.   They shouldn't be milking the LA Times for public sympathy. 


What about simply owning up and taking responsibility for their children? 


Doing so might go a long whey.   


David Niedrauer is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.