Cherry Hill Changes Lunch Debt Policy From ‘Lunch Shaming’ to ‘Prom Shaming’
CHERRY HILL — The board of education gave unanimous approval Tuesday night to a change in policy regarding school lunch accounts that are overdue in township public schools.
A district policy that would limit students whose debts exceeded $10 to tuna sandwiches for lunch got national attention and was criticized as "lunch shaming," prompting the board to come up with a new plan some call "prom shaming."
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.
Under the 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.
Under the new plan, 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 accounts are behind would be able to eat lunch from the standard meal choice of the day, but would not be able to choose from other available a la carte options.
During discussion of the policy at the board's Sept. 24 meeting, Board Vice President Lisa Saidel 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.
The Cherry Hill school board voted 9-0 on Tuesday night to amend its lunch debt policy after hearing from several people with objections to the policy, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer's coverage of the meeting.
"It is an elitist assumption on the part of this school board that parents are not paying the bill because they don't want to. There are many reasons why parents can’t pay a bill," resident Vibiana Cvetkovic told the board in video of the meeting posted by the Cherry Hill Courier-Post.
Cherry Hill East senior Jacob Graff, a student representative to the board, said it was "completely unfair that a student could be penalized for their parents' inability to pay or unwillingness to pay," according to the Courier-Post video.
One of the goals of the policy was to identify families who are in need and to get them assistance, Board President Eric Goodwin said, according to coverage by the Cherry Hill Courier-Post.
Meloche said that the policy would be implemented at the discretion of school principals.
California just made it law that students cannot be barred from receiving a lunch or treated differently even with a debt. The bill guarantees all students a state-funded meal of their choice, even if their parent or guardian has unpaid meal fees.
State Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt told the Inquirer she will introduce similar legislation for New Jersey.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.