Nearly two months after the initial decision to opt out of the federally funded program, the board rescinded their previous decision and opted to participate this school year.
There are countless children all over the country that depend on free school meals to meet their daily nutrition requirements, and in nearly every Wisconsin public school, students will receive meals for free this academic year, except Waukesha, according to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That's because the Waukesha School District board decided to opt out of the federally-funded program that offers free and reduced-price lunches to only students who apply and receive federal money for them.
They claimed the program would make it easy for children to "become spoiled," The Washington Post reports. Darren Clark, assistant superintendent for business services, said he feared there would be a "slow addiction" to the service.
"As we get back to whatever you want to believe normal means, we have decisions to make," stated Joseph Como Jr., the president of the school board, at a meeting held on June 9, 2021, to discuss the district's return to the pre-pandemic National School Lunch Program. "I would say this is part of normalization."
Waukesha school district declines to participate in universal school lunch program. Because they don't want families to get "addicted". https://t.co/hvuQ33DHjn— Gerald Dryer (@GeraldDryer) August 30, 2021
Ioana Marinescu, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, disagrees. She affirmed, "If anything, it’s the opposite effect. The [program] that’s based on conditions because it’s required to have low income might create the disincentives the board is talking about, but the universal one is less likely to create disincentives."
However, Waukesha students from low-income families will still be able to apply for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program.
The Alliance for Education in Waukesha, which comprises an estimated 900 parents and teachers, pushed for the rules to be changed so that everyone is given equal access to free meals.
Waukesha Wisconsin School Board ladies and gentlemen. For a lot of children in poverty that free school lunch is the only full meal they will receive that day. It’s inhumane to starve children. Period. That should be a bipartisan stance. Don’t deliberately starve children. https://t.co/SikMMluyj6 pic.twitter.com/C6pAwWSIN1— Rebecca (@BeckyStewart13) August 27, 2021
Karen Fraley, a mother of two children in the district, is one of the parents pushing for change. Although her family does not personally benefit from the program, her experiences with unemployment have made her aware of the difficulties other households may face.
She explained, "It comes from just caring about the other members of our community. Even if it’s not my kid who needs that food, it’s just a matter of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and understanding that we all need to take care of each other. The district really does have some great programs but the board definitely does seem out of touch with people."
The Alliance even organized a rally on August 27, 2021, urging the school district to take action.
Eventually, superintendent James Sebert asked board members to reconsider their previous decision, adding the program would help families "experiencing situational poverty due to the pandemic" who might not qualify for free meals under the district's traditional program, according to another report by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
On August 30, 2021, the board members voted 5-4 to rescind their previous decision and opted to participate this school year. In a statement released by the board, they backed up their decision by sharing: "We know there are brighter days ahead and that a new school year is just moments away. Every new school year offers the opportunity for a fresh start for both kids and adults in a most symbolic way. Let us commit to making the most of it."
Cover Image Source (Representative): Getty Images | Dag Sundberg