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Rhode Island School District Reverses Policy Labeled As Lunch Shaming

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  • A Rhode Island school district faced accusations of lunch shaming after it announced that students with unpaid lunch bills would only be served sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • The outrage increased when parents learned that the district had also refused a $4,000 donation from a local community member to help with the debt, over concerns of how to fairly distribute the funds.
  • The district later reversed the policy and said it will work with its legal team to ensure that donations are accepted and applied in an equitable manner.

New Policy Announced

A Rhode Island School District has reversed its policy of only serving students with lunch debt sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches after it was slammed with accusations of lunch shaming.

Warwick Public Schools announced original policy change on their Facebook page Sunday, saying: “Effective Monday, May 13, 2019, if money is owed on a paid, free, or reduced lunch account a sun butter and jelly sandwich will be given as the lunch choice until the balance owed is paid in full or a payment plan is set up through the food service office.

The post was met with a ton of backlash from angry parents calling the policy  “terrible” and “shameful.” In some responses, parents said they had been mailed letters notifying them of unpaid balances of just a few cents.

One parent wrote, “Just give the kids lunch. We already lost a janitor, science teacher, dont have air conditioning, we cant spring for a chicken patty for a hungry kid? What if this is their only meal of the day?”

Some commenters blamed the parents for not better managing their expenses. Meanwhile, others tried to understand the school’s position. “We need to look at both sides of this!” another user wrote.

“While it is inappropriate to embarrass a child over their parent’s failings — there’s also the argument that if we provide free lunches with no accountability, many parents will purposely choose not to bother paying at all.”

Rhode Island school are required to provide lunches to students under state law and those meals must also meet minimum federal nutrition standards. Low-income families can qualify for free or discounted lunches for their children. According to the state Department of Education, about 69 percent of school lunches are already served at a free or reduced price.

Donations Refused

The debate over the new school policy got escalated once parents learned that the school had also turned down a large donation from a community member.

According to CNN, West Warwick business owner Angelica Penta tried to make a $4,000 donation to Warwick Public Schools to help pay off lunch debts. However, Penta says her donation was refused.

Penta set up donation jars at her two area diners in March of last year and has already raised over $12,000.

“I gave $4000 to West Warwick Schools on January 8th, and then I tried to give additional money to Warwick Schools, but they denied the check,” Penta told CNN.

Jars that Penta set up to raise funds for student lunch debt. Source: CNN

Penta spoke to the Director of Finances for Warwick Public schools to ask why the donation was turned down. She said she was told that the school was concerned about parents being upset that their balance was paid and concerned about how to distribute the donation.

The district has since defended itself against criticism for refusing the funds. “The business owner has maintained a position that they want to make a single, large donation to the district while leaving the student selection process to the school department,” Warwick Public Schools told WPRI in a statement.

“This is a position that the school department cannot support given the school’s mission to treat all children equitably.”

Policy Reversed

By Wednesday the school posted a follow-up message on Facebook, addressing the backlash that had accrued over the week. In it, they said that 1653 Warwick students have a balance on their lunch accounts as of Friday, May 3. The balances rage from anywhere between $10 to over $500. In total, the district says the outstanding lunch debt currently sits at $77,000.

The district explained that the majority of the lunch debt comes from paying students, not students who are enrolled in the free/reduced lunch program. All students are able to purchase lunches or à la carte items and charge them to their account, even if the accounts have no money in them. However, if debts are not paid after repeated notices to guardians, then students are given the sandwich option.

“Please understand that no students are left without a meal under our current policy,” the district wrote. “Once the student’s access to à la carte items has been shut off, students are provided with a balanced lunch of a sunbutter and jelly sandwich (which is also a daily choice on the school lunch menu), vegetables, fruit, and milk.”

“However, after careful review and consideration the policy subcommittee is recommending that the Warwick School Committee allow the students their choice of lunch regardless of their account status.”

The school added that it is grateful for donations and will “work with our attorneys to ensure that we accept donations in compliance with the law and that the donations are applied in an equitable manner.”

Lunch Shaming

“Lunch shaming” is a term used to describe efforts to hold parents accountable for their schoolchildren’s unpaid lunch bills that may spark embarrassment or bullying. It’s a huge problem in public schools across the country.

“This is bigger than Warwick,” Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association told the New York Times. “Public schools across the country are really struggling with this issue.”

There is much debate over how to deal with managing this debt, while also not singling out students or parents with unpaid bills.

In this particular instance, some parents feel that the sunbutter and jelly sandwiches would have served as a marker for lunch debt and enabled bullying.

A 2014 report by the Department of Agriculture found that about 45 percent of school districts withheld a hot meal and instead provided a cold sandwich to such students. But the practice of swapping a hot meal for a cold sandwich is just one of the measures that schools often take to deal with the issue.

In other cases nationwide, lunch shaming practices have included making students wear a sticker, stamp, or wristband to alert their parents of lunch debt.

Schools across the nation have taken steps to avoid lunch shaming, with laws passed in Washington State, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Oregon. Meanwhile, other schools have relied on private donations.

See what others are saying (CNN) (New York Times) (USA Today)


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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

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Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

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