The "summer feeding program" had not been canceled, D.C. school officials insisted, but the word took a long time getting through to a group of irate Anacostia parents, fed up because their children had not been fed.
The parents, led by a sympathetic assistant principal at Washington Highlands Community School, staged a demonstration outside the school at lunch hour Monday and later took their picket signs and their anger into the principal's office.
"An $8 million school and you can't give the kids lunch!" protested Robert Harrington, who said he had four children enrolled in summer programs that started this week at Washington Highlands. "Ain't that something? All that money. Somebody's getting it, that's for sure!"
"You're beating on the wrong head if you're beating on mine," said principal Frances W. Hughes. "Let me help you find the right head.
"They expect for the principal to know everything and I don't know everything," she said later. "I was not aware that there would be no lunches this summer. I thought there was going to be a program starting June 26."
While Hughes tried to get through to a higher school official who could clarify the situation, complaints were flying thick and fast across her office, from adults and children alike.
"They've got money to build a subway, money to send rockets, but they don't have no money to put cold bologna on a piece of bread," said Pamela Smart, 19, whose sister Deborah is repeating the first grade at Washington Highlands "because she's shy," Smart explained.
Victoria Hunter, who has five children at Washington Highlands, vented most of her anger in the direction of a D.C. Recreation Department official who said he had heard about the summer lunch cancellation two months ago.
"You knew two months ago? Well, somebody should have informed the parents out here," said Hunter. "If we knew two months ago we would have had a chance to go down to the mayor's office and find out what was happening."
Brian Bell, 8, wanted it understood that there were other problems with the lunches at Washington Highlands."Last year, almost every time I got a milk it was sour," said Bell.
Then Joseph Webb, Washington Highlands assistant principal for community services, tried to reassure Hughes, his boss, that he had not meant to cause her or the school embarassment by staging a demonstration.
"Nobody feels threatened or hassled," replied Hughes. Later she proclaimed, gravely: "Publicity for notoriety, no. Publicity to get what you want, yes."
After failing to reach any of the school officials she had tried to telephone, Hughes finally suggested that the parents call a meeting to discuss the summer lunch problem and how to deal with it. They accepted her suggestion and then departed.
Later in the day, Ransellear Shorter, executive assistant to the deputy superintendent of schools for management services, told The Washington Post that the summer lunch program would be getting underway soon, although he could not name a date.
"We are gearing up for the summer program as fast as we can," he said. "There was some question about funding, but money has been found."