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Originally published Friday, September 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Edmonds schools give kids back their hot lunches

The Edmonds School District is suspending its policy on overdue lunch money. School officials are no longer taking hot lunches away from kids whose parents owe lunch money to the district.

The Edmonds School District has decided to stop taking away hot lunches from students whose parents owe lunch money to the district.

For nearly two weeks, cafeteria workers were told to throw away the hot food that students put on a tray if their lunch accounts were at least $10 behind. The children were given a cold cheese sandwich instead.

The policy was temporarily suspended Thursday after parents, cafeteria workers and community members complained about the district's efforts to recoup more than $200,000 in lunch fee debt carried over from last year.

"We don't want to throw away food and we don't want to embarrass students," Edmonds Superintendent Nick Brossoit told The Herald newspaper of Everett.

A community meeting has been called for next week to discuss alternative solutions to the district's lunch money debt problem.

When the school year began earlier this month, 2,750 students owed $10 or more on their meal accounts. After five days of the cheese-sandwich policy, parents paid back $45,269 of the debt.

Barbara Burley, a cashier at Hazelwood Elementary in Lynnwood, couldn't bear taking milk and fruit away from kids. She and other staff members collected donations to buy hot lunch for kids who would have otherwise received a cheese sandwich.

On Thursday, she was delighted to give children an IOU and put their lunch on their parents' tab, just as she had been doing in the past.

"Now I can keep my job and I don't have to humiliate a child — and that's all I wanted," she said.

Ron Martinez, president of the district's PTSA, also was glad to hear that cafeteria workers have stopped throwing away perfectly good food.

"It's good that they suspended that and it's good that they're continuing to feed the kids and it's good that they're trying to get the community involved to try to find a solution," the Lynnwood father said. "I think that shows they're looking to help the kids."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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