VOICES: School district’s ice cream messaging was less than sweet

Who doesn’t love ice cream?

You can find someone, but that would be as rare as a blue lobster. So, imagine the glee when Donovan Elementary School in Lebanon announced its First Friday Ice Cream event for the school’s third and fourth graders.

It should have been a happy occasion.

But the school district stepped in it with an ill-advised, short-sighted, and tone-deaf social media post.

“Tomorrow is the highly anticipated first ice cream Friday!” the Facebook post said, adding an examination point for emphasis. But then, the district blew up any good intentions with this:

“A student must have money on their account to purchase an ice cream. If a student has a negative balance, they will not be able to purchase an ice cream even if they bring their $1 for ice cream. Students are only allowed to purchase 1 ice cream and are not permitted to buy an ice cream for a friend. We hope to have a great first ice cream Friday.”

That didn’t go well. Parents and community members were up in arms and ripped the school. The fiasco made national news.

It should be because of the awful message. These are young kids, generally eight and nine years old, who see ice cream as a treat. Most adults do, too. But instead of trying to make the ice cream day memorable for all, the district, in essence, said:

If you have a negative account balance, you can’t get ice cream. If you bring money, we won’t take it. Friends can’t buy you ice cream. All of you negative account balance kids can look on in shame as your friends, the ones with money, enjoy a tasty treat.

The school realized the error of its ways, so it took to Facebook again and apologized.

The school noted that the original post lacked empathy (duh) and was insensitive to those with low or negative balances (ya think?). “This post inadvertently sent the message that we would embarrass students or turn them away for an issue outside their control. The message fell short of our values as a district, and we sincerely apologize.”

The district could have stopped there, but instead, it doubled down. It noted that students with negative balances always get lunch but can’t purchase a la carte items like ice cream.

Tone deaf at its finest.

So, at least one person (there may be more) stepped forward.

Naiyozcsia Thomason owns Mz. Jade’s SoulFood, a terrific spot in Middletown (get the meatloaf with yams and greens. Yummy). She heard about the ice cream controversy on social media and decided to pay the negative balances.

“I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I gotta do something to try to get the kids some ice cream,’ " she told me. “I’ve been there before. I’m a mother of six kids. I had unpaid balances that stopped my kids from doing a lot of things growing up, and I couldn’t do anything about it back then. But I was able to do something now, so I did.”

She paid the unpaid balance — $411.15.

There should be several lessons here.

Be careful about what you write on social media. Your words will bite you.

Sure, rules are rules, but how about some common sense? Why penalize and embarrass a child through no fault of their own and take away a cherished treat? That’s cruel.

All of this happened over $411.15. It’s not like there were thousands of dollars of unpaid balances. That’s about the cost of two good tickets to a Cincinnati Bengals game.

The school later said all of the children received ice cream. Good move.

That should have been the message from the start.

Ray Marcano’s column appears on these pages each Sunday. He can be reached at raymarcanoddn@gmail.com.

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