Monday, November 4, 2013
Hardships and Policies
He was so careful picking his lunch today. It had to match his best friend's, all the way down to the color of the sherbet. They compared bananas before setting them on their trays. They got the same chocolate milks. They both ordered the peanut butter and jelly with a string cheese. They both got a mixed salad, and they both refused the ranch dressing. This was a change of pace from their usual puddle of creamy goodness. Then they dickered over the sherbet. There was only one green one left in a sea of orange. What to do?
The friend wanted green, and time won out. They didn't entirely match.
Then they didn't match at all.
His account was charged to the limit. He had received three charge slips last week, each with a strong warning that he would need to put money on his account. This time there was no warning. The carefully arranged tray, nearly but not entirely matching his best friend, was taken from him and slipped under the cafeteria worker's computer shelf.
I saw the wave as I shepherded the last few of my students through the line. The cafeteria worker said, "he charged $6.00. He gets the sandwich." His eyes were apologetic, but unmoved. It was policy.
I saw my student, my child, a piece of my heart for this year, watch with wide eyes as his tray was taken and a foil wrapper and milk carton were placed into his outstretched, empty hands. I turned to help another student with an issue and then followed him to his table where his best friend was waiting behind him. They both stood, my student staring blankly into his hands where his tray should be, his friend carefully watching him with sad eyes.
I slipped a hand around my student's shoulders and asked, "are you ok?" He ducked his head, finally out of his trance, and slipped onto the seat at the table. He muttered "yes." Then as I slipped onto the seat next to him, he ducked his head further onto his arms, and his lip trembled in the shadows. He slipped his head up to wipe his nose and a tear ran down his cheek as he sniffled. "I'm fine."
I offered to have him come eat lunch with me in the classroom, where I had a granola bar stashed and lollipops in a desk drawer. He elected to stay with his friends. A new coworker was flabbergasted and wanted to go to the principal over it, until I explained that it was cafeteria policy for the school system. Then she crossed her arms and huffed, "It's not right!"
It's not right. A student embarrassed and hurt because his account wasn't paid. A family with whatever issues they're facing, frustrated and angered that their child, entrusted to our daily care, was put in such a position. A teacher whose heart was breaking, wanting to step in and afraid to violate family boundaries or professional ones.
But it's policy. It was policy.