Teacher Job Actions Denied Meals to More than 100,000 Kids

According to Court Documents, Children Went Without As Teacher Protests Closed Schools in February

By Bill Osmulski
MacIver News Service

When school districts around Wisconsin were forced to close in February due to teacher sickouts, tens of thousands of children who qualify for free or reduced lunch, were left wanting.

There are more than 116,000 students on free and reduced lunch among 41 of the districts that staged sickouts in February, according to DPI records. Madison, alone, has over 12,000 students on free and reduced lunch. The district was closed for four days.

“The District believes that such students are being irreparably harmed by the strike,” Dan Nerad, Madison Schools Superintendent, said in a court filing on February 18th after his district had been closed for three days.  “The missed meals which are not being received by such students as a consequence of the strike may never be made up, to the detriment of such students.”

John Matthews, Madison Teachers Inc. Executive Director, told Nerad in an email that week, teachers were staging the sickout for the benefit of the district’s children.

“What teachers are doing is based on their own conscience, for education, the children in our schools, for their own families,” Matthews said.

Milwaukee Public Schools were closed on February 18th when its teachers staged a sickout. The district says it has 66,900 students on free and reduced lunch.

“I have no knowledge of arrangements our families would have had to make when they did not have access to our schools that day,” said Roseann St. Aubin, MPS spokesperson.  “Superintendent Thornton did communicate with employees at frequent intervals during February to urge them to remain focused on their tasks in the schools.”

After the sickouts in Madison had gone on for three days, district administrators decided to try to get food to its needy students.

“Food, which would have otherwise gone bad due to the strike, is being made available to low-income students and their families at approximately 18 District schools and through a number of community centers and food pantries,” said Nerad. “These efforts, however, cannot make-up for the number of meals already missed nor can they guarantee that every student who may be going hungry during the strike is being served.”

Teachers unions in Wisconsin have long advocated for free and reduced lunch.

“Educators know that many students depend on their public schools for breakfast and lunch,” reads a March 2010 West Central Education Association newsletter.  “For many students, school breakfast and lunch are their main meals of the day.”

School District Population % Free and Reduced Est. Students Free and Reduced*
Cochrane-Fountain City 657 33.8 222
Alma Center 628 58.9 370
Bangor 601 31.8 191
Beaver Dam 3665 44.9 1646
Blair-Taylor 646 42.3 273
De Forest Area 3249 22.7 738
Edgerton 1834 32.7 600
Galesville-Ettrick 1385 30.6 424
Glendale-River Hills 1013 33.3 337
Granton Area 2199 59.3 1304
Greenwood 389 51.9 202
Holmen 3767 27.2 1025
Independence 369 47.7 176
Juda 290 37.7 109
La Crosse 6932 47.9 3320
Lodi 1668 17.3 289
Loyal 568 51.4 292
Madison Metro 24806 51 12651
Marshall 1242 34.7 431
McFarland 2976 18.9 562
Middleton-Cross Plains 6104 18.2 1111
Milwaukee 80934 82.6 66851
Mineral Point 749 19.9 149
Monona Grove 3100 19.1 592
Mount Horeb Area 2337 13.7 320
Neillsville 1007 51.4 518
Oregon 3725 15.7 585
Racine 21,100 58.5 12344
Reedsville 2554 29.8 761
Richland 1390 50.3 699
River Valley 1339 36.9 494
Riverdale 703 57.1 401
Saint Croix Falls 1134 40 454
Sauk Prairie 2766 31.7 877
Stoughton Area 3379 22.3 754
Sun Prairie Area 6975 27.5 1918
Verona Area 1165 31 361
Watertown 3951 42.8 1691
Waunakee Community 3701 8.6 318
West Salem 1812 25.5 462
Total 116822

*This column was calculated using the enrollment figures and free and reduced percentages from DPI. Actual figures may differ slightly. For example, Madison says it actually has 12,071 on free and reduced, and Milwaukee says it has 66,900.