By Luke O’Neil
The Guardian (10/23/19)
A school district in New Jersey has become the latest to punish its students for being unable to afford to pay for lunch.
The Cherry Hill school board, which oversees 19 schools and about 11,000 students, agreed last week to prohibit students whose lunch debt is more than $75 from participating in extra-curricular activities such as school dances or trips. They will also be barred from purchasing a yearbook.
Previously, the board had attempted to serve only tuna sandwiches to students with debt – something that prompted an outcry and was condemned as lunch-shaming. The school board says students who are in debt will not be prevented from receiving the necessary sustenance.
In a video of the school board meeting posted online, the superintendent, Dr Joseph Meloche, said the goal was “responsibility with compassion”. Meloche has denied an offer from a local businessman who offered to settle the remaining balance of roughly $15,000.
“I understand that the board has decided to NOT accept any significant donation to help with the ‘lunch’ issue. Strange,” Steve Ravitz, the owner of a local grocery chain, posted on Facebook.
“Simply erasing the debt does not address the many families with financial means who have just chosen not to pay what is owed,” Meloche said in a statement.
The story is just the latest in the widespread problem of children getting into debt over school lunch costs, following controversies in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Florida and elsewhere. In Washington DC last year, tens of thousands of students accumulated almost a half a million dollars in debt.