Edwards said she doesn't believe children should be in the middle of a dispute between adults. "I don't think an 8-year-old should be tasked with reminding their parents to pay," she said.
But Chula Vista administrators say that many parents agree with their approach and that they wouldn't need it if parents lived up to their responsibilities. Parents can pre-pay for the meals by sending checks with their children or dropping off money at the school. They can also let their children pay daily. The price for a meal in the district is $1.50 -- and about 6% of parents currently owe lunch money.
Joan Pernicano, a former school counseling assistant from San Diego, recently wrote to her local paper to say that schools shouldn't be burdened with parental debt.
"Let's put the blame where the blame should be, with the parents. If you care about your children and don't want them stigmatized, go pay your bill," said Pernicano, a San Diego resident.
Doyle, the Chula Vista assistant superintendent, said the district is caught in a "darned if you do, darned if you don't" situation and has gone to great lengths to avoid stigmatizing children.
This year it introduced a turkey-ham sandwich alternate meal. Next year, Doyle said, the alternate meal might sometimes be tacos.
All students are encouraged to avail themselves of the unlimited salad bar, where they can spice up the plain sandwiches with garbanzo beans, pickles, mayonnaise and lettuce.
"We think we have one of the most compassionate practices with respect to all of this," Doyle said.