Students Who Owe Lunch Money to Get Cold Sandwiches

Students Who Owe Lunch Money to Get Cold Sandwiches
Students eat lunch at Jones College Prep High School in Chicago, Ill., on April 20, 2004. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

WARWICK, R.I.—A Rhode Island school district will begin serving cold sandwiches instead of hot lunches to students whose families owe lunch money.

Warwick Public Schools says it is owed more than $40,000 from outstanding lunch payments and cannot afford to absorb the costs.

The new policy begins next Monday.

Students who qualify for free meals can still run up a debt by adding extras to their lunch trays, such as milk, which are not included in the free lunch, according to parents who commented on Facebook.

Warwick is the second largest city in the state, with a population of just over 80,000.

All public schools in Rhode Island are mandated by state law to provide lunches, and nearly 70 percent of those meals are served for free or at a reduced price.

To qualify for free meals, children must come from families with an income below 130 percent of the “poverty level.”

Reduced price meals ($.40 or less) are available for those at 130-185 percent of the poverty level.

Above this level, the school or institution sets the price.

The school district has refused to take donations in the past, according to local restaurant owner, Angelica Penta. “I have met with Warwick twice and the second time I left in tears after they refused to take a $4,000 check,” she wrote on Facebook.

“They don’t want parents getting upset if their child’s lunch gets paid for, but if they are going through hard times they may need help,” she wrote. “I come up with several different ideas and they were all shut down. Please if anyone has any ideas how we can stop this please let me know.”

Warwick, Rhode Island.
Warwick, Rhode Island. (Screenshot/Google Maps)

The district responded in a statement saying it must treat all students equally and cannot single out which debts to reduce.

The district recommended the donor take applications and decide who receives the money.

Critics say such lunch debt policies shame children for something outside of their control.

Penta was one of many people who weighed into the intense debate on social media.

While some labeled it as “food shaming” the poor, other parents encouraged each other to help settle any outstanding debts with donations.

Many people were angry at the decision.

But others defended the decision.

“This isn’t as cut and dried as people are making out to be,” wrote one person. “Currently the school department feels that it is fair to not reward their irresponsible behavior but at the same time also make sure that the child has something healthy in their stomach. Sun butter is a non-allergic nut butter similar to peanut butter but made from sunflower seeds and it is packed with protein. Kids love it and it is healthy. And why are you call it ‘shaming’? Maybe the lesson that child takes away is to grow and perhaps they will be motivated to do better by their own children.”

Some parents have since set up an online fundraiser to cover the outstanding debts.

Pending legislation would change state law making free hot lunches available for all students regardless of income.

The Epoch Times reporter Simon Veazey contributed to this report.

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