Donovan Elementary School in Ohio recently sent out a blast on Facebook promoting the school’s first ever “Ice Cream Friday,” though their post didn’t exactly get the warm welcome that they were expecting.
And that’s because in addition to announcing the fun event, they also stated that Ice Cream Friday came with one very specific and strange rule: “If a student has a negative [lunch] balance they will not be able to purchase an ice cream even if they bring their $1 for ice cream. Students are only allowed to purchase 1 ice cream and are not permitted to buy an ice cream for a friend.”
Essentially, any student who owed even a dollar on their lunch card would be excluded from the event, something that parents and even the general public felt was wildly unfair. In fact, people were so upset that within just two days, Donovan Elementary School’s Ice Cream Friday post had more than 16,000 comments, almost all of which were calling out the school for its exclusion of these students.
The school technically apologized, once again through a Facebook post, but they refused to change the “rule” for the ice cream party. That’s when local businesswoman Naiyozcsia Thompson stepped in to save the day.
She asked Donovan Elementary how much the outstanding balance was for the entire school’s lunch debt, and when they reported it was a mere $411.15, she paid the entire debt in full. Thompson explained why she paid to the press and it was really quite simple, “I was a parent with kids with balances before. I couldn’t do nothing about it, so now that I could, I did.”
Since the school’s post went viral, they have since released a fairly lack-luster apology stating, “The wording lacked empathy and sensitivity for students who have low or negative meal account balances.”
But this story is about more than just ice cream, it truly sheds light on the difficulties students face who may not have the funds to pay for school lunches every week. With inflation on the rise, children from low-income and even middling income families are unable to afford school lunch, something that many believe should be the last thing families deserve to worry about.
In 2020, the US government decided to pay for all school lunches for students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Reports say that this choice had a huge impact on families around the country, as according to the US Census, food insecurity in low-income homes fell by 7% that year.
However, the program was not continued after the pandemic and other than the nine states that have decided to ensure all students receive a free and healthy lunch at school, the rest of the country’s youth are still struggling to afford a hot lunch.
So while Donovan Elementary’s Ice Cream Friday has made headlines, more than anything, most people are wondering: Why do these students need to struggle to pay for lunch at all?