The Cheese Sandwich Lesson for Socialism in Schools


It’s difficult to believe that Bob Plain isn’t trying his hand at parody with an interesting article on RI Future today about “lunch shaming”:

It’s known as lunch shaming. Students are subjected to special, sometimes embarrassing, treatment because their parents didn’t pay the school lunch bill. “Some provide kids an alternative lunch, like a cold cheese sandwich,” according to a recent NPR story. “Other schools sometimes will provide hot lunch, but require students do chores, have their hand stamped or wear a wristband showing they’re behind in payment. And, some schools will deny students lunch all together.”

The so-called cheese sandwich policy seems popular in suburban Rhode Island: Bristol/Warren, South Kingstown, and East Greenwich all use it.

From Bob’s article it appears that we’re talking debts in the amounts of $5 or $10, which seems like a paltry amount that districts could find some way to accommodate.  I’m trying to imagine a working-to-middle-class private school taking such steps.  In a transaction in which one side actually has the option to leave, other approaches have to be considered, whether a mandatory up-front fee, a deposit of some kind, a credit card on file, mandatory use of a payment processor that handles the collection, or a slight increase to all lunches in order to generate a reserve fund that provides a buffer for this sort of “debt.”

Putting aside the “what would the private sector do” comparison, though, think of what this little story says about the relationship of government to the people.  Adults in position of authority over school districts with budgets in the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars are agonizing over ways to embarrass children so as to extract a few owed dollars from their parents.  That doesn’t indicate a mindset of provider-client or public-servant–beneficiary.  Rather, it indicates the dynamic of ruler-subject similar to a Dickensian orphanage.

Suffice to say it takes a series of monumentally bad social and public policy decisions to get us to the point at which the proverbial lunch lady is scornfully handing a child some bread and cheese over $5 owed.  We should start unraveling those decisions.

  • Raymond Carter

    Ultimately, like “no borders no walls” and men in shower rooms with little girls,progressiveism dies when it collides with reality. If you make it impossible to EVER refuse school meals to kids middle-class to rich parents would, and should, stop paying.

  • Bonnie

    These cheese sandwiches are not free. They charge the normal lunch price.
    My fourth grader forgot three days in a row to ask for lunch money. This was before online payments. He was given a cheese sandwich which I was charged for and the next day went hungry because he can’t eat cheese. I had to make a very unhappy trip to the school to clear this up. I am happy to say they have NEVER done this again. By the way he owed $7.20.

    • jimri

      Your kid went hungry because of you, not the school. Pay up, deadbeat.

  • connieri

    Yet another poorly-executed aspect of the school lunches is the practice of sending out CONSTANT snail mails about money owed. We receive, at least weekly, mail in the mailbox about some CENTS owed by our 6th grader. Do the math, Westerly Schools — speak of throwing $ out the window! At least bookend the current Westerly policy of cheese sandwiches, fruit & milk for those who owe over $10 with a policy to not waste $ snail mailing families who owe less than a dollar… or two — some set & sensible amount. Please stop giving the postal service unnecessary taxpayer dollars, as well as killing trees and wasting toner and admin labor over .26 cents owed, etc.!! At least switch to emails to hassle us over pennies owed. Pretty basic stuff…