Principal stopped school’s shaming free lunch kids with hand stamps, says it got her fired
A former principal at a charter elementary school in Colorado said that she was fired last year after she tried to force school officials to stop marking the hands of children who could not afford to buy lunch for full price in the cafeteria.
In an email sent to parents last November, Peak to Peak Charter School insisted that former principal Noelle Roni’s firing was not a form of retaliation after she claimed she had complained about a hostile work environment.
At the time, Roni had said that she refused to sign a buyout offer because “it would have put me in a position of not being able to explain myself to the community I love.”
“It would also prevent me from trying to undo the damage that continues to be waged on my reputation and character by the ongoing speculation,” she noted. “I believe that I was retaliated against for standing up for children’s rights and against activities that stigmatized children.”
In an interview published by The Daily Camera on Monday, Roni revealed for the first time that her disagreement with the school was over a practice of stamping children’s hands if they did not have enough money in their account to pay for lunch or even if they were eligible for free lunches.
“As soon as I saw it happening, I was like, ‘No, this is not OK,'” Roni said. “The students felt so humiliated, like they had done something wrong. They didn’t want to go into the lunchroom any more. It’s unethical and disrespectful.”
A memo from Roni’s lawyer explained that Roni had asked cafeteria workers to stop stamping the hands of children who couldn’t afford lunch once she discovered the practice. After cafeteria workers continued stamping children’s hands, Roni met with the food services manager and other school leaders.
According to the memo, everyone agreed that the stamping practice should stop and the food services manager resigned. But only three weeks later, Roni was contacted by a grantparent, Evelyn Bernstein, who was upset that her grandchildren were getting their hand stamped, even though they qualified for free lunches.
The grandmother later told The Daily Camera that her grandson should have been allowed to eat pizza with the rest of the children because he qualified for the free lunch program, but the school only allowed him to have a cheese sandwich. Bernstein said that the child was embarrassed and did not want to eat a hot lunch at the school again.
“At all odds, she will stand by the kids,” Bernstein said of Roni.
Roni’s lawyer said that after she refused to take the blame for the food services manager’s resignation, a disciplinary letter was placed in her file for “unprofessional conduct.”
“[Executive Director Kelly Reeser] used this incident and my stance against it as an example of my being unprofessional and insubordinate, which eventually led to me being terminated,” Roni told the paper. “You put kids first. That’s more important than whether I’m going to get along with my co-worker.”
Peak to Peak’s board of directors refused to directly address the allegations regarding hand stamping, but said in a statement on Sunday that “Peak to Peak does not condone or tolerate unlawful retaliation.”
[Photo credit: Peak to Peak Charter School]