EDITORIAL: Got (Free) Milk?

A Virginia student is facing prosecution in Prince William County for allegedly stealing a carton of milk from the school cafeteria. Need we say the student is an African-American male? Need we also add the student, along with his parents, said he qualifies for the free lunch program that includes a carton of milk? The school resource officer, who accused the teen of theft, allegedly grabbed him by the neck, handcuffed him and charged him with disorderly conduct and larceny. Need we also say the school resource officer is also African-American?

The student, who has been identified by name in other media despite the fact he is a minor, claims that when he got his free lunch, he forgot to also get a carton of milk. When he returned to the lunch line to get the milk he was approached by the officer. According to a Washington Post report, the student said he put the carton back over orders by the officer to take it to the principal’s office. The officer, on the other hand, said the teen threw the milk back at him, pushed him and tried to get away.

While the facts of the case may be in question, what is clear is that prosecuting students over a 65-cent carton of milk provided as part of the National School Lunch Program could not be what legislators had in mind when they enacted the National School Lunch Act 70 years ago.

President Harry S. Truman signed the Act in 1946, saying, “It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food, by assisting the States, through grants-in and other means, in providing an adequate supply of food and other facilities for the establishment, maintenance, operation and expansion of nonprofit school lunch programs.” Nowhere does the legislation, or any of its later revisions, intimate that children should be prosecuted for consuming an extra French fry, chicken nugget or carton of milk. And, we would argue that prosecuting children for such violates the expressed intent of the statute “to safeguard the health and well-being of the nation’s children …”

While this student denies he stole the milk, stolen meals have become a reality in school districts where students lack the money to pay for the reduced meals or snacks. Consequently, the USDA has required school districts to “institute and clearly communicate a meal charge policy” for children who do not have money in their account of in hand to cover the meal … or in this case, milk … at the time of service. It is difficult to believe that the parents at Graham Park Middle School would approve a policy that would lead to an arrest and prosecution when so many examples of alternatives are readily available. If there isn’t a policy, one needs to be established immediately and widely communicated to school administrators, school food service professionals, families, students and resource officers so that incidences like this will not happen again.

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Award-winning journalist and 21-year Black Press veteran, book editor, voice-over specialist and college instructor (Philosophy, Religion, Journalism). Before joining us, he led the Miami Times to recognition as NNPA Publication of the Year.

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