TAMPA, Fla. – A Tampa middle school eliminated a controversial incentive card program for the lunch line amid complaints it’s unfair to academically challenged and misbehaving students who end up eating last.
Students at Woodrow Wilson Middle School earn special cards through academic achievement or by improving their behavior or grades, one of many reasons the school is among the top-rated in the city, Fox 13 reports.
Inevitably, some kids don’t earn cards, so they don’t receive the same incentives as those who do. Aside from homework passes or free admission to sporting events, students who earn cards get priority in the school’s lunch line. But two Wilson eighth graders don’t think it’s fair the “no-card kids” eat last, because many are poor or minority students, so they launched a campaign to kill the program.
“Everyone knows that they’re in line because they got a ‘C.’ Like, it’s not private at all,” Alyssa Croker, one of the student activists, told Fox 13. “And it’s really embarrassing for them, I think.”
Her compadre, Celia Brown, said “no-card kids” end up getting less time to eat than their peers, and that’s a problem because they’re poor and don’t get enough to eat at home.
“We could be putting the kids who need to be eating the most at school and only giving them 10 minutes,” Brown said.
The girls launched a Change.org petition that’s currently 33 signatures shy of its goal of 1,000. But two weeks ago, with about 750 supporters, school officials announced the decision to suspend the program until officials can discuss the concerns with parents after the winter break.
“Upon our return from the Winter Break and until further review, I have decided to suspend the lunch line related component of the incentive card program for the balance of the 2015-16 school year,” principal Colleen Faucett wrote in a statement posted to the petition site.
“During the coming months, my administrative team will reassess current procedures and conduct student interviews in an effort to determine ways to improve our system.”
LaShawn Bates, parent of a sixth-grader at Woodrow Wilson, discussed the situation and expressed support for the move with WMNF radio station.
“You have certain children who may be on free or reduced lunch. That could be their only meal for the day. And maybe they’re not the A+ student. Most of the A+ students with the red cards have parents at home that are involved,” Bates, who has served on the PTA board, told the station.
“And I’m not saying it’s every circumstance, but those kids have food in their refrigerator. They’re going to get a meal at night. Whereas, somebody who’s at the back of that line: let’s be honest, socioeconomics kind of follows with how you’ll perform in school. That’s just a fact,” Bates continued.
“But that lunch may be the only food that a kid has for the day. And maybe he doesn’t get enough time to eat it; he gets five minutes to eat and has to throw away the rest.”
School officials disputed the claims students at the back of the line don’t get enough time to finish their lunches.
“The line this year – for the lunch line – is not taking any more time or any less time than any other year. The students have 30 minutes for lunch. And the principal assures me that when there are students who might need additional time she always extends the lunch line and does not rush students out. So the students have ample time to eat their lunch,” Hillsborough County Public Schools spokeswoman Tanya Arja told WMNF.
Arja also pointed out that the incentive card program incorporates behavior, grades, academic improvement, attendance and other factors, and doesn’t expose the specific reasons why some students receive a red card, and others get none at all.
“I don’t know how it would violate their rights because you don’t know who is standing in the line for what reason,” Arja said. “The card doesn’t say anything about your grades or your behavior or your attendance on your card; it is simply a card.
“So you have no idea if the student that is standing in the line has straight As or if the student next to that one received the card because they had better behavior from one quarter to the next or they had improved their attendance from one quarter to the next,” she said. “So you have no idea which students are which and why they got the card.”
Wilson principal Faucett told Fox 13 only two parents have voiced complaints about the lunch line incentive to the school directly.