New Jersey School Bans Kids With Cafeteria Lunch Debt From Prom, Field Trips

The ban strikes a 'balance of compassion' while 'holding parents accountable,' said a district spokesperson.

children eat their school lunches
Amanda Mills, USCDCP / Pixnio

The ban strikes a 'balance of compassion' while 'holding parents accountable,' said a district spokesperson.

A New Jersey school district has banned kids with outstanding cafeteria lunch debt from going to prom, participating in field trips, and doing other fun things, The Courier Post reports.

Officials in Cherry Hill, like school officials in many parts of the country, were struggling to come up with a way to handle the issue of school lunch debt: that is, how to feed kids whose cafeteria balances are in arrears. It’s a complicated issue, as cash-strapped school districts can’t afford to feed kids whose parents don’t pay the bill for their meals. But on the other hand, denying a child food, particularly while their peers eat, is seen as cruel.

In Cherry Hill, authorities had previously come up with an idea for any student behind on their cafeteria debt. They thought they’d hit the right compromise when they devised a plan that allowed such kids to have a tuna fish sandwich instead of whatever the other kids were eating. That still provided kids with a nutritious meal but at a lower cost.

However, that spurred complaints that the practice was tantamount to publicly shaming the kids, so they came up with a new plan: kids in arrears on the cafeteria payments would still get the same meals as everyone else, but they would be forbidden from going to school dances, doing field trips, or other fun things.

an empty school cafeteria
  Wokandapix / Pixabay

That plan has been met with backlash as well.

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No fewer than three 2020 presidential hopefuls have weighed in on the issue. For example, New Jersey’s own Corey Booker promised to erase the school lunch debt of all students across the country, as well as provide free school lunches to all schoolkids, no questions asked. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren called it “cruel and punitive.” And Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said simply that, “‘School lunch debt’ is not a phrase that should exist.”

Meanwhile, according to a companion Courier Post report, offers of donations to pay off the entire district’s lunch debt, for all students, have been pouring in, but the district is unwilling to take that money. Cherry Hill school superintendent Joseph Meloche admitted that some of the kids in arrears are from families that are food-insecure both at home and at school, but said that others are from “homes with means.” Meloche reiterated that the district’s over-arching goal is to address the issue in a way that balances “compassion with responsibility.”

As previously reported by The Inquisitr, schools often fail to strike the right balance when it comes to providing meals for hungry kids while also not operating in the red when it comes to school lunches. Oftentimes, those failures make national news, as was the case with a New Hampshire school cafeteria worker who was fired when she let a boy without money have a hot meal anyway.