Susie Santee says toughened enforcement of student ID requirements in all Lawrence secondary school cafeterias is a bunch of bologna.
She said she concluded that after her son, Alex, was apparently denied a meal at West Junior High School because he left his plastic debit card for school meals at home.
"There's a duty of care," Santee said. "We were told it was an efficiency thing."
Paula Murrish, food service director for Lawrence schools, said line workers were following her edict to bring the hammer down on students who failed to show proper identification when buying cafeteria meals.
"We've started to enforce the rule more strictly," Murrish said.
She said the new strictness was necessary at the district's four junior high school and two high school cafeterias.
Serving lunch at school is more complex than it used to be, Murrish said. Many students now require two lunch debit cards, because their parents are divorced and insist on different limits on what their children can eat, she said.
Last year, she said, hundreds of students each day showed up without lunch cards, creating problems. Dealing with forgetful students slowed lunch lines to a crawl and cut food service revenue.
"We were losing sales," Murrish said. "Students would get bored and leave."
Murrish said the district's food service department was self-supporting. It operates on a $4.3 million budget, but doesn't draw resources from the district's general fund. That's accomplished while serving 215,000 breakfast and 1.1 million lunch meals annually. Essentially, that equates to 1,200 breakfasts and 6,000 lunches daily.
Santee said her son forgot his lunch card twice this school year. The first time, she said, he was given a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a milk instead of the regular lunch.
That conforms with district rules designed to assure no student is turned away without something to eat and drink, Murrish said.
Santee said the second time her son forgot his meal ticket he wasn't offered a snack.
"That is upsetting," she said. "They know Alex. He had money in his account. He simply forgot his wallet," which contained his lunch card.
Murrish said she couldn't imagine any of her 135 cafeteria employees sending a hungry student away. She said she didn't know how many students each day forget the cards.
She said meal cards aren't an issue in elementary schools because they're kept at each school by cafeteria workers not students. Older students in junior high and high school are held responsible for keeping track of their lunch cards, she said.
That's the proper approach, said Scott Morgan, Lawrence school board president. He said he was not familiar with the situation at West but was convinced secondary students ought to be able to handle lunch transactions.
If they make a mistake, he said, they should be held accountable.
"I think it's a reasonable request to ask people to bring lunch cards," Morgan said. "They have the alternative of peanut butter and jelly, so in extreme situations children don't go hungry."
He said responsibility is among the many things taught in public schools.
"This is one way to do that," he said.