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Warren Decries 'Cruel' Policy on School Lunch Debt

NJ student worries it will affect his college prospects
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 23, 2019 8:51 AM CDT
On Jan. 25, 2017, students fill their lunch trays at JFK Elementary School in Kingston, NY.   (AP Photo/Mary Esch)

(Newser) – A New Jersey school district with $16,500 in student lunch debt would like to point out that all of its 11,350 students are "provided the lunch of their choice, regardless of whether they have money for it or not." That's not quite what critics are focusing on. New Jersey's Cherry Hill school district announced in August that students would receive tuna sandwiches instead of a full meal until their lunch debt was repaid. It soon abandoned that policy amid public outcry, but its so-called compromise isn't going over much better. Per ABC News and the BBC, the school board rejected a businessman's offer to pay off all student lunch debt, then unanimously passed a policy blocking students with more than $75 in debt from attending extra-curricular activities like prom, and even from buying a yearbook, at an Oct. 15 board meeting. Elizabeth Warren describes it as "cruel."

Superintendent Joseph Meloche says erasing the debt would prevent the district from identifying struggling families so as to refer them "to the free and reduced lunch program," per the Cherry Hill Courier Post. But school board president Eric Goodwin claims there are also "many families with financial means who have just chosen not to pay what is owed," per the BBC. A grandmother who attended the meeting called that "an elitist assumption," per ABC News. "If my mom or dad can't pay for lunch, why should I be restricted from my passions?" added Cherry Hill East senior Jacob Graff, who predicted his college prospects would be affected. Meloche countered that "money is certainly something that we have to deal with" and "sometimes the right thing is not the easy thing to do." Per the Courier Post, a principal can waive penalties on a case-by-case basis. (Read more New Jersey stories.)

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