Students at an Attleboro, Massachusetts, middle school went hungry this week, if they had a negative balance on their pre-paid lunch cards.
Five cents of debt was enough for cafeteria employees at the Coehlo Middle School to instruct kids at least one day this week to dump out the food they would have normally eaten, CNN affiliate WJAR in Rhode Island reported.
About 25 children left the lunchroom with empty stomachs, said Whitson's Culinary Group in a statement. The company runs the school's cafeteria.
Parents were appalled. So was the principal. So was Whitson's.
"I told them this is bullying; that's neglect, child abuse," said parent Jo-An Blanchard.
Principal Andrew Boles apologized and blamed the culinary company. "My expectation is that every child, every adult, every parent, every student, every teacher is respected in this building, and that didn't happen yesterday because of Whitson's," he told WJAR.
Whitson's apologized in a statement and said it was not company policy to deny meals to children. It added that the school district had no official policy on what to do in such situations.
"Employees had taken it upon themselves to institute this change; it was not condoned or approved," said Whitson spokeswoman Holly Von Seggern. "We had absolutely no idea."
Workers in the school's cafeteria work on a contract basis, Boles said. He thinks the decision came from Whitson's.
Whitson's supplies 80 schools in New England with lunch meals, Von Seggern said. CNN could find no previous reports on similar incidents involving the company.
Kids with a negative balance usually receive "a cheese sandwich, a fruit and vegetable, and milk." Then the company contacts the parents about payment.