A Rhode Island school district sent a notice to parents that they will only serve cold sandwiches to students whose families owe lunch money, The Providence Journal reports.
The school district said in a statement that “if money is owed on a paid, free, or reduced lunch account a sun butter and jelly sandwich will be given as the lunch choice until the balance owed is paid in full or a payment plan is set up through the food service office.”
“This policy actually comes out of a serious debt that we’re incurring by people who are not paying for their lunches, and it’s getting worse,” the School Committee’s chairwoman, Karen Bachus, told The Providence Journal.
Bachus said that the district has distributed $40,000 in lunches this school year that haven’t been paid for.
Bachus told the outlet that the district is targeting “debts incurred by parents who can afford to buy lunch but aren’t providing lunch money, as well as debts potentially run up by parents who might have a hardship but haven’t yet filled out the necessary paperwork to line up assistance.”
“This is for people who are just not putting money in their children’s accounts or who are not giving their children money to buy lunch,” Bachus said.
Parents slam school for shaming kids:
“That doesn’t seem right,” Julle Hener, whose two children attend E.T. Wyman Elementary School, told The Journal. “I don’t know what the solution is. I understand they need to collect that money somehow, too, but how to do it, I don’t know.”
Melissa Washington and Kayla Cabral, whose kids go to school at Wyman, added that the $2 lunches are too expensive for many parents to begin with.
According to NBC News, nearly 70% of school lunches in the state are served for free or at a reduced price based on family income.
"This is absolutely awful. Our schools shouldn't be in the business of shaming children," a commenter wrote on the district’s Facebook post.
"Just give the kids lunch. ... we cant spring for a chicken patty for a hungry kid? What if this is their only meal of the day?" another commenter asked.
Bachus told NBC News that the district took steps to try to avoid “shaming” kids.
"Before we used to give a cheese sandwich which did single them out, but now we've gone with an on-the-menu meal," she said. "So what's wrong with that?"
District rejects restaurant owner’s offer to pay off lunch debt:
Rhode Island restaurant owner Angelica Penta told WJAR that she offered to pay down some of the debt but was “shot down” by school officials.
"Everything that I said got shut down,” she told the outlet. “Every idea I had got shut down."
School officials said they rebuffed the offer because it would be unfair to choose whose lunch debt was paid off.
“Each time these offers were made, Warwick Public Schools stated that the school department was not in the position to single out or identify specific students that should be selected for a reduction in their lunch debt while excluding others,” the district told WJAR.
"We have a lot of customers that believe what we're doing is right and they have no problem donating,” Penta said, adding that she has raised about $12,000 so far. "Basically, the other kids are knowing that these kids can't afford lunch by having a sun butter sandwich."
“If you need help reach out to me,” Penta wrote on Facebook Sunday. “There is no need for any child to be denied a hot lunch. We never know a child’s or their family’s situation, everyone struggles at some point."
After days of backlash, the school district said it would put the new policy on hold: