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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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Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains

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Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.


Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston

Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.

Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.

When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.

Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.

Signs That Went Unnoticed

The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.

On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.

Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.

I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.

She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.

Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.

Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.

“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”

Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges

According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.

After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.

At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.

Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.

ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.

On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.

Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.

See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)

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Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say

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The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.


COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card

Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.

Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.

On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.

The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.

Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.

The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.

Misuse of COVID Relief Funds

Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.

In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.

According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”

On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.

In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.

See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)

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FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses

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The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.


New FDA Authorization

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.

The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.

Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.

Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.

Hazy Recommendations, For Now

Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.

The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.

In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.

However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.

An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.

Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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