‘Oh you have no money:’ Students who receive reduced lunches left hungry; denied food at school

401770 04: First-grader Kaitlyn McGarry uses the fingerprint scanner to pay for lunch at Penn Cambria Pre-Primary School March 1, 2002 in Cresson, Pa. Penn Cambria is one of three school districts utilizing a biometric program from Food Service Solutions, in Altoona, PA that enables students to buy their lunch with their scanned fingerprints. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — Gustavo Andrade, a Framingham High School sophomore, felt slighted in April when he was denied lunch at school.

“I had the food on my plate and they said, ‘oh you have no money and your account isn’t working, so you have to put it back.’ It was kind of embarrassing,” Andrade said.

He’s one of hundreds of middle and high school students who receives federally funded reduced lunches.

“I had to spend the whole day without eating any food and it was frustrating because I was hungry,” Andrade said.

School officials were made aware that some students whose accounts had insufficient funds were being denied meals.

“I get so frustrated when he has nothing to eat. He’s hungry and can’t pay attention in school,” Andrade’s father, Raesterley said.

After hearing complaints from parents, the a school committee voted unanimously to no longer withhold meals from students who can’t afford to pay for them.

“We are putting these kids under terrible stress from that fear of it — plus they are hungry and can’t function, so we have to do something about this,” said Geoff Epstein, committee member.

Some students were being denied because they were only a few dollars over their accounts.

“I was appalled it happened at all, but even more frustrating when I discovered one kid was a denied a meal because he had a balance of $1.20 or under $10. It seemed like no one knew this was happening,” Framingham City Councilor Michael Cannon said.

The school committee plans to come up with a long-term fix. Meanwhile, the city will be responsible to cover the tab, which could cost around $30K.

“I don’t think withholding a meal is the right thing to do. I just think we need to be careful how we spend taxpayer dollars,” Framingham Superintendent Robert Tremblay said.

Andrade said he’s happy to hear about the vote.

“The fact that I don’t have worry anymore is so much better, so I can go on and get my lunch and worry am I going to get lunch today am I not,” Andrade said.