Why This Lunch Lady Was Fired for Serving Food

April 15th 2017

Willie Burnley Jr.

A lunch lady in Wilmington, Ohio, was fired after she gave out free food.

The woman, Debbie Solsman, had worked at Denver Elementary for 15 years when she was suspended and then fired for giving out free food to students, including her grandchildren who attended the school. It was not immediately clear whether her grandchildren were unable to pay for the food. The school, unsure of how long the activity had been going on, is unsure how much it is owed.

According to school policy, students whose accounts are insufficient to pay for regular meals are to receive a cheese sandwich with sides. However, Solsman said she would at times give students the regular meals, which would include things like a pizza or burger.

“I thought I was doing the right thing,” Solsman said to local news station WLWT, before acknowledging that she broke the rules. She said in the interview that she believes termination was overly "harsh" response.

Solsman reportedly kept a list of IOUs in order to track how much she had cost the school, and she said she’d allegedly pay them back with her next paychecks. Since she has been fired, a GoFundMe page has been created by people who support her actions.

WLWT reported that "[d]ocuments reveal the school suspended Solsman and then fired her for providing food without payment to her grandkids."

“For people to make the district out as heartless to kids' needs is the hardest part," Superintendent Ron Sexton told WLWT in response. "We care a great deal about our employees, we care a great deal about the students." He said no student was ever denied food.

School lunch issues are abound. 

Over the last few years, there have been stories about an anonymous donor sending $500 to Ohio schools in Port Clinton to wipe out the lunch debt of 158 students, a lunch lady in Idaho being fired for giving out a free lunch to a hungry 12-year-old, an employee quitting over "lunch shaming" students in Pennsylvania, and stamps on students' arms who cannot pay for their lunch in Alabama.

In early April, the state of New Mexico passed the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights, "which directs schools to work with parents to pay their debts or sign up for federal meal assistance and puts an end to practices meant to embarrass children," otherwise known as "lunch shaming," according ot the New York Times.

In Baltimore, Maryland, all students are offered a free lunch and free breakfast, regardless of income, through a federal funding program.