A Rhode Island school district canceled plans to deny hot food to children whose parents and guardians can’t afford it after facing nationwide backlash.
Faced with $77k in unpaid lunch fees, Warwick Public Schools announced last week that they would offer students with outstanding balances “sun butter and jelly sandwiches” rather than the hot lunches classmates receive. The practice not only leaves students with a substandard lunch but also announces the status of their accounts to classmates and teachers. The response to the new policy was overwhelmingly negative, with multiple GoFundMes raising over $40k for the balances and Chobani yogurt pledging $47,650.
According to NPR, Karen Bachus, chairwoman of the Warwick School Committee, announced plans to cancel the policy on Facebook but explained that most of the debt isn’t from kids in the National School Lunch Program, which offers free and reduced cost lunch to qualifying students:
“She also stressed that a vast majority of the debt — 72% — is from students who are not enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. She added that as of the announcement, about $14,000 had been collected from outstanding balances. Bachus also detailed the monthlong process by which the district seeks to collect payment from parents — a process that involves sending multiple letters home over 90 days.”
All this statement really proves is that there are a lot of families unable to afford school lunch who aren’t getting any assistance. Across the country, schools are taking drastic, and often humiliating, measures to collect on delinquent lunch accounts, from throwing lunches away when children are unable to afford them to forcing students to work off their lunch debts. Earlier this year, another school district in Rhode Island threatened parents who couldn’t pay off lunch debts with collection agencies.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires all American school districts to put lunch policies in writing at the beginning of the school year but doesn’t ban or restrict the ways in which districts are allowed to attempt debt collection.