ENGLEWOOD — School officials in this Bergen County district have threatened to report parents who don't pay off their school-lunch debts as potential child abusers.

Students in this district have run up a $100,000 tab. Englewood's school cafeterias continue to rack up debt because they must serve lunch or breakfast even if a student doesn't have money on a given day. Students are expected to pay for the food within a week, but some students and parents are abusing the system, officials told The Record.

"They (parents) are not providing lunches," said Glenn Garrison, a school board member. "They are neglecting their children."

The board recently adopted a policy requiring officials to send two notices to parents before they are asked to attend a meeting over the debt. If they don't respond, the parents could be reported to the Division of Child Protective Services.

But a state spokesman said threatening to report parents as part of a debt collection plan is irresponsible. He wouldn't say whether other districts had tried this tactic in the past.

"A parent's failure or inability to satisfy his or her debts to a school lunch program is not a form of abuse or neglect," Ernest Landante, spokesman for the state Department of Children and Families, said in an email.

The threat of state action is supposed to be a last resort, Superintendent Robert Kravitz said, adding that the district needs to create a system to define the consequences for not paying the tab.

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