Commentary

Kids eligible for free and reduced lunch are the pride of the working class

ColumnistOctober 26, 2013 

They could be young highway patrolmen, dispatchers and administrative staff at the Fort Mill Police Department or the York County Sheriff’s Office. They may work at an area distribution center or a local restaurant.

Any single parent who is the single breadwinner in a family of four would qualify if his or her total annual income is less than $45,568. With that income, the family’s schoolchildren qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch at school.

In the Fort Mill school district, there is a firestorm of controversy over having too many of these “eligible for free and reduced lunch” kids in any school. As the district prepares to open two more elementary schools next year, officials are redrawing school attendance lines.

Some parents have said free-and-reduced lunch kids come from families that might not have as much time for learning and parent-teacher interaction and field trips as the richer families. The kids might not read as well. They might not have as much to eat.

Tell the cop who works the beat at night saving people but makes a lot less than $45,568 that he is not as good as anybody, or his kids aren’t as good as anybody else’s kids.

Imagine: Too many kids of young cops and firefighters in a school is deemed bad by some people. Too many kids of a single mother who instills the work ethic of a lifetime by hustling from an office job to wait tables for extra cash to buy school clothes is, for some, apparently not so good as a neighbor.

The Fort Mill school superintendent has claimed, repeatedly, to want neighborhood schools. But if there are young rookie cops and power linemen and clerks with kids, well, if you use the “eligible for free and reduced lunch” tag, you can hear the refrain from some with more money:

“There goes the neighborhood!”

“We are what is called ‘working class,’ and that is fine by me,” said Alicia Barnes, a mother of two kids at Riverview Elementary School, who lives at Forest Ridge Apartments. Forest Ridge kids, under an initial rezoning plan, would have gone to nearby Riverview Elementary. Under that proposal, 51 percent of Riverview’s students would have qualified for free or reduced-price lunches, the highest by far of the district’s nine elementary schools.

On Tuesday night, Superintendent Chuck Epps proposed sending students from Forest Ridge and other nearby apartments to Orchard Park Elementary School a few miles away. That is the school in Baxter Village that, under the initial plan, had only 5 percent of its students eligible for free and reduced lunch. The superintendent plan bumps that up to 17 percent at Orchard Park.

Riverview’s percentage would drop to 37 percent.

“My kids are fine at Riverview, and I’m not apologizing for not being born with a golden spoon in my mouth,” Barnes said.

Calethia Wolf, parent of a kindergartener, said her daughter can achieve as well as any child.

“And she will,” Wolf said.

From another apartment emerged Mary Lumpkin. Disabled now, Lumpkin worked cleaning a school and at a fast food restaurant and as a nursing assistant in homes – sometimes all at the same time. She’s raised two sons.

“Anybody who says that black kids and white kids, rich kids and poor kids, can’t all learn the same, is lyin,’ ” Lumpkin said.

Some parents have claimed, in the year 2013, that property values will suffer if one school or another has too many “eligible for free and reduced lunch kids” in it.

Lumpkin, black, is old enough to have heard that scare tactic used in her lifetime growing up in Rock Hill.

“They had a word for that,” Lumpkin said of the well-off wanting “neighborhood schools” for them, and complaining that too many “eligible for free and reduced lunch” kids in that school would hurt property values:

“Segregation.”

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

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