Lunch lady says she was fired for giving food to children who couldn't pay

School: Students are always given a complete lunch

WILMINGTON, Ohio -- For 14 years, Debbie Solsman worked as a beloved lunch lady at Denver Place Elementary School in Wilmington.

She was fired by the district in February, and her supporters raised an angry social media storm.

When a child doesn't have money for lunch, Solsman said they're given a cheese sandwich. She said she would upgrade the lunch for those without money, or give them extra food if they were still hungry.

"If they didn't have enough money in their account, they would get a cheese sandwich instead ... The other kids knew when they walked out into the cafeteria why they got the cheese sandwich," she said.

Solsman said she would also hear stories of food insecurity.

"There were children that got a free lunch that would come back and say, 'Miss Debbie, I'm still hungry' ... And you don't know how many times I heard they didn't have supper that night."

Solsman said she kept notes of IOUs and paid out of her own pocket for students, but the district suspended and terminated her this February for "not keeping track of her register and providing food to her grandchildren without payment."

She admitted to giving her grandchildren extra food, but said it wasn't just them.

"I broke the rule," Solsman said. "I'm the one that broke the rule, it's not the district, and I really want everybody to know that my 14 years that I was there, Wilmington City Schools were good to me ... But in my heart, when that child tells me they're hungry, do I believe them or just say, 'No, you don't need any more today?' How do you determine the difference between that?"

The district released a statement this week, saying that "students are always given a complete lunch pattern meal, regardless of the monies in their account." The meal includes a meat or meat alternative, vegetable, fruit, grain and milk, as required by the National School Lunch Program.

"Under no circumstances is a student ever denied a complete meal," according to the district's statement.

Officials wrote they are not permitted to share details on the termination of a specific employee.

The attention to the incident has drawn two job offers for Solsman to be a lunch lady at other schools.

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