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Several Cleveland Hill Middle School students got quite a surprise this week, as they watched a cafeteria worker dump their lunches into the garbage right in front of them when it was discovered they didn’t have the money to pay for them.

District and food service administrators say it was an isolated incident as a result of an employee’s “bad judgment.”

The incident occurred Monday, as some students were trying to buy lunch when their district debit cards showed a negative balance.

The district contracts its food services to a local company called Personal Touch. One of the firm’s employees disposed of the student’s lunch immediately if they couldn’t pay for it.

According to administrators, the incident was a momentary misunderstanding. Each of those students did get a lunch within a half-hour period, and Cleveland Hill High School Principal Jill Sherman reportedly even paid for some lunches.

Superintendent Jon MacSwan found out about the event later in the afternoon and sent a letter home to parents apologizing for the incident the following morning.

However, the district is still answering questions after the incident went public with a story on WIVB-TV.

MacSwan admitted it was embarrassing.

“One of the employees had mistaken judgment and thought it was her responsibility to throw out the lunches,” he said. “It’s not a practice that we typically have.”

David Cervi, president of Personal Touch, said the company follows the policies of each of the more than a dozen districts it serves in the area. According to Cleveland Hill’s policy, students are not supposed to be denied a lunch even without money, and are typically given a sandwich, fruit and milk.

Cervi said negative student account balances typically happen toward the end of the school year, as districts attempt to find ways to collect their money.

The staff member behind the incident has been reassigned outside the middle school cafeteria.

“It was poor judgment on our staff member’s behalf,” Cervi said. “We don’t condone that behavior.”

Personal Touch released a statement about the incident on its website.

“Disposing of the tray of food in front of the student was inappropriate and should not have happened,” the statement said. “For that we sincerely apologize as it was humiliating to the students involved. Putting the student and the cashier on the spot when the account isn’t up to date is not fair to anyone.”