French mayor admits bread and water lunch ‘awkward’

A mayor in France has admitted that his much-criticised decision to give only bread and water to two school children, whose parents had not paid their school canteen bills for a year, was “awkward”.

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Emmanuel Ferrand, mayor of Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule in the Allier department (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) was mired in controversy this week after it emerged that the school canteen in question had given two primary pupils - one in CE2 and one in CM1 - only bread and water at lunchtime.

The children’s lunch meals had not been paid for in more than a year, and they were not even registered with the lunchtime service, the mayor said.

He said that bills, calls, emails, and mayoral letters to the childrens’ parents had gone unanswered, and that the decision to give only bread and water had been a final way to get their attention.

But while Mr Ferrand admitted his actions had been “awkward”, he said that it had been very difficult to decide what to do in the situation.

Writing to news network FranceInfo, Mr Ferrand said: “I regret this decision. It was awkward, certainly, I admit that. But what should we do faced with the piling up of bills and no response? We wanted to send a shock to the parents of these children.

“What should we do? Call the gendarmerie? Leave [the kids] in the playground? We put them in another room so that they would not be with the other children and become victims of bullying. We gave them fresh bread and water.”

Mr Ferrand added that the childrens’ parents had finally paid the outstanding bills that evening, and noted that the problem of non-payment was common across his commune.

He said: “What is incredible is that the parents paid their full bill that evening. I do not understand why they did not pay earlier; why they did not reply to our messages; why they did not come to talk to us. They did not complain at any time. The proof is that they paid without saying a thing.

"We have one third of parents who [often] do not pay the canteen, which equals 50 families, of which 14 are in real [financial] difficulty. That represents €5,000 unpaid per year.”

One staff member at the canteen, who did not want to be named, told France3: "I understand that unpaid bills are difficult for the mayor to manage. But I am in total disagreement with the way in which this was done. These are adult problems. Children should not be deprived of their food. I was really shocked."

But the mayor said that he had been attacked unfairly over the move.

He said: “I have become a pariah of the State for wanting to do my work honestly. My opponents have greedily attacked me for political reasons.”

“Today, those who no longer pay are strong, and people defend them. One day, there will no longer be any mayors in France, because we will not give them the means to manage their communes, nor to help those who suffer, or those or profit from the system.”

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