A board member who refused to change his stance told his colleagues to “find their courage and their backbone.”
Waukesha School Board Monday chose to revert to the federal program which provides free meals to all students, regardless of their household income, overturning the course on a controversial decision to withdraw from the program.
As first reported last week by WUWM, Waukesha was the only school district in Wisconsin to withdraw from the program. Children who are normally entitled to a free and discounted lunch would not be affected by the district’s decision; However, the program was intended to help students whose families would not generally qualify but who have experienced difficult times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The story quickly gained national attention due to the reasoning of school officials about their decision to withdraw. District CFO Darren Clark said he feared there would be a “slow addiction” to the program if children were allowed to eat for free, and school board member Karen Rajnicek said families who used the program could “get damaged”.
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After voting unanimously to withdraw from the program, the council voted 5-4 Monday evening to reverse the course. Superintendent Jim Sebert said the district administration was supporting the move, noting that some families who would not normally be eligible for free or reduced meals could “experience poverty due to the pandemic.”
Council members said they had received hundreds of messages from the public, some containing threats, after their initial decision.
Anthony Zenobia, a newly elected board member who ran on a platform opposing COVID-19 security measures and the so-called “critical race theory” and was one of four board members who voted against returning to the program, said members of the school board were the real victims of the debate. He said that “the progressive socialist left” and the Washington post “Brutalized mothers with children in this district for political ends”, referring to mothers who sit on the board.
During the debate before the vote, Zenobia said her fellow board members should “find their courage and their backbone” and not give in to the “crowd” of people who want the district to return. This “crowd” included a group of local parents who protested against the decision.