Cherry Hill swaps tuna sandwich ‘lunch shaming’ for prom ban
The Cherry Hill school district is considering a change in its school lunch debt policy that would keep students who owe fed but would bar them from the prom and after-school activities.
Every district in New Jersey is required to have a policy addressing students whose accounts are in arrears. In the two years that Cherry Hill's policy has been in effect, the district has absorbed more than $14,000 in unpaid lunch bills, according to schools Superintendent Joseph Meloche.
At its Aug. 13 meeting, the Board of Education discussed the policy and how to proceed so as not to continue absorbing the debts and get parents to pay their bills.
A district policy that would limit students whose debts exceeded $20 to tuna sandwiches for lunch got national attention and was criticized as "lunch shaming."
The district went back to the drawing board and came up with a new policy.
Students whose debut reaches at least $40 would be banned from the prom, senior class trip, school dances, buying a yearbook or participating in after-school events and class trips until payment is made, according to a copy of the plan posted by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Parents would be notified over the phone when the debts reach $10 and $25.
If the debt reaches $75, parents would be required to attend an in-person meeting.
Students whose account is behind would be able to eat lunch from the standard meal choice of the day but not from other available menus.
Board Vice President Lisa Saidel on Tuesday compared the policy to the one in place to handle overdue library book debt, which she said has been in place for many years without complaint.
She was also frustrated at what she called the continued "faux outrage" and misinformation that children are not being fed.
"That has never been the case and it won't be the case. I'm incredibly frustrated there are those who want to continue that narrative even though it's blatantly untrue," she said.
Saidel said the policy's goal is to open communication with families.
"We want the families who are not paying to communicate with us so we can help the ones who can't pay. And, quite frankly, the ones who can pay should pay. I don't think we should be in the business of allowing people to not pay their bills if they can," Saidel said.
The board discussed the possibility of using a collection agency. Meloche said it is not the preferred way as the district would like to be aware of students whose families may need financial help.
"We know there are children and families in need of support. It's about us being able to connect with those families, meet with those families and get them that support," Meloche said.
Member Ruth Schultz suggested looking at ways to accept donations to cover lunch debt, perhaps through the PTA.
During Tuesday night's meeting only one resident commented about the plan.
Rick Short told the board that the students should not be stigmatized by not being allowed to attend the prom or participate in school activities.
"Our counselors, our principals, our superintendent are not collection agencies. There are other ways to collect money. We should also accept donations. This entire program idea is a disaster," Short said.
The plan will likely get a vote at its next meeting on Oct. 15.
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