School District Votes To Allow Principals To Penalize Students With Lunch Debts

by Julie Scagell

The new policy would prevent students with lunch debts from attending prom and other extracurricular activities

As California Governor Gavin Newson passes legislation ending lunch alternatives for students who have lunch debt, a New Jersey school district is taking an entirely different stance, preventing students who owe lunch money from attending school functions like prom and other extracurricular activities.

The policy was approved by the Cherry Hill school board, stating in part that if a student’s lunch debt is over $75, they may be excluded from participating in school dances, extracurricular activities, class trips, or purchasing a yearbook until their bill has been paid in full. For High School students, that means no prom and for middle and elementary school kids, that could mean missing out on necessary and enriching field trips.

“If the bill is in arrears in excess of $75.00, the parents will be required to attend an in-person meeting with the Superintendent or designee, the Business Administrator or designee, and the Building Principal to address the outstanding balance,” the policy also stated.

This was the same district who last year proposed a plan to serve cold tuna sandwiches to students with lunch debts of more than $10, and no food to students who had more than $20 worth of debt. This updated policy will now provide hot meals for students with overdue balances but not allow them to receive a la carte items, however, when the debt reaches $25, parents will be contacted to discuss the outstanding balance.

This district has about 11,000 students across 19 schools, and just over six percent of the township is considered in poverty. Nearly 20 percent of the students in the district are considered “economically disadvantaged,” according to New Jersey’s Department of Education.

It will be up to each school’s principal whether to enforce the policy, but one Superintendent made his feelings known. “Sometimes the right thing to do is the hard thing to do,” Joseph Meloche said prior to the vote via The Philadelphia Inquirer. “The goal of what we do is responsibility with compassion.”

School lunch debt has been in the headlines more and more as schools continue to deal with large food debts and families struggle to afford for their kids to receive meals at school. While many states have passed laws against schools refusing to feed students, others have policies like only serving cold lunches of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to kids who are in debt to the school, leaving them open to bullying for not being able to pay for school lunch. One school even threatened parents, telling them their kids will be put in foster care if they didn’t pay off their lunch debts.

After a second reading and public hearing, the school board voted 9-0 to adopt the revised policy and will impact this school year’s students.