Among the words a person would use to sum up Camp Verde Unified School District Superintendent Dennis Goodwin, “forthright” is likely at the top of the list.
Especially when it comes to the health and wellness of students.
Last school year, CVUSD documented instances of students being refused a hot lunch due to a lack of funds in their school lunch account — an act that caused Goodwin to issue a directive to his cafeteria staff, in no uncertain terms.
“We will be feeding kids appropriately, regardless of their ability to pay,” Goodwin said, adding that the process he has put in place has no limitations: Children will not be treated differently simply because they do not have the money to put into their lunch accounts.
As one can imagine, CVUSD — a district where over 70 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunches and nearly 30 percent are defined as living in poverty — is burdened by a great many parents and guardians who cannot afford the expenditure of a hot school lunch. Across the state, districts treat empty lunch accounts differently; quite often, students are singled out and, in addition, given a cold meal.
In April, Paradise Valley Unified School District was widely criticized for sending a student home with a “lunch money” stamp on his arm. According to that district’s leadership, the policy of stamping students is no longer in force.
New Mexico recently made school lunch shaming illegal. Regardless, many districts across the country isolate students who are unable to afford a hot lunch.
“I have a really hard time with that but, sadly, it’s a really common occurrence at a lot of schools,” Goodwin said, adding that when it happened at Camp Verde Elementary’s cafeteria he had a less than favorable reaction.
“The problem you have with this is you have some staff who don’t follow instructions [but] there’s no reason a child should miss a meal,” Goodwin said. “If a kid asks for a hot lunch, they will get one.”
At Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, students are allowed a small negative balance on their accounts, after which the district offers students an alternative lunch of a cheese sandwich, a fruit or vegetable, milk and anything from the salad bar, free of charge.
According to COCSD Executive Assistant to the Superintendent and Governing Board Secretary Tricia Winters, ensuring that students are not isolated or ostracized due to lack of lunch funds is the “top priority.”
Both CVUSD and COCSD have procedures in place to notify parents and guardians that their children have insufficient funds to pay for a hot lunch.