A Rhode Island school district has reversed a policy that would have limited students who held a lunch debt to eating a cold sun butter and jelly sandwich instead of a variety of hot lunch options.
Backlash from parents on a Facebook post from the Warwick Public Schools page announcing the policy change on Sunday inspired the reversal. The policy was supposed to go into effect on Monday, May 13.
“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,” read the initial post.
There are over 1,000 comments on the post from parents and critics accusing the school of shaming students whose families might not be able to pay for lunches.
“Shaming children by providing them a restricted lunch option because of financial concerns is totally unacceptable,” wrote one commenter. “There has to be a better option than to take this out on the kids. What if this is their only meal of the day? What if they get nothing else at home? This is a terrible decision by the Warwick School Committee.”
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Warwick officials posted a follow-up statement after the new policy made national headlines on outlets including CNN and ABC News. Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio also spoke out against the policy, tweeting: “All school lunches are subsidized the district would receive the same money for a cold meal or a hot meal, this is a punitive measure aimed at shaming children.”
The updated post began by stating that under state law, the school participates in the National School Lunch Program which requires them to provide “nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches” to children every day.
They continued, clarifying that in addition to the free or reduced-cost lunches, they also offer “à la carte options such as pizza, fries, ice cream, and other snacks.” Those items are then either deducted from the students’ lunch funds or charged to the students’ account and then billed to the parents separately.
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If those debts were not paid after multiple notices over the course of three months, it’s then that the students’ à la carte options would be suspended and they would receive the sun butter and jelly sandwich, vegetables, fruit and milk.
The post included data on the current outstanding balances across the district. Of the $77,000 total lunch debt, they said 72% of balances are from students who are not enrolled in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program, while 28% are from students enrolled in the program.
It did not specify however whether students enrolled in the National School Lunch Program were ever given free or discounted rates for the à la carte foods, or were only provided the sun butter and jelly lunch sandwiches.
The post concluded with news that the policy would be reversed: “After careful review and consideration the policy subcommittee is recommending that the Warwick School Committee allow the students their choice of lunch regardless of their account status.”
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