Students with lunch debt barred from attending prom, field trips in New Jersey school district

A New Jersey school district is making headlines again for passing a new policy that would prevent students who owe over $75 in lunch debt from attending their prom and other extracurricular activities.

In late August, Cherry Hill school district faced backlash for a proposal in which students who owed over $10 in lunch debt would only receive a tuna fish sandwich for lunch, and students with over $20 would receive no lunch at all. At the time, Assistant Superintendent Lynn Shugars stated the board chose tuna fish, instead of peanut butter sandwiches, because "we know that our little ones would probably very happily eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until the end of time."

While the policy would have been within the state's requirements, students and parents immediately voiced their displeasure, with some suggesting that a tuna sandwich would become a "badge of shame."

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In September, it was announced that students who did not have money would still be able to receive breakfast and lunch without any a la carte items.

However, on Tuesday night, Cherry Hill School District passed a new policy during a school board meeting. According to the new policy, high school students and middle school students who have a debt over $75 may not be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, purchase tickets for dances, including prom, attend class trips or purchase a yearbook.

Elementary students who accrue over $75 in lunch debt will not be able to participate in after-school events/activities or attend class trips. This policy does not bar students from educational field trips.

“I think this strikes a balance of compassion at the same time making sure we’re holding people accountable,” school board President Eric Goodwin told NJ.com when the policy was first proposed in September.

The rule will be enforced at a school's principal's discretion and is not an automatic step. The decision to withhold certain privileges will be on an individualized basis, following direct contact, letters and meetings with the families.

According to NJ.com, the school district had $14,343 in unpaid meal debt in the 2018-2019 school year. The food program still made a $200,000 profit.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the district will not accept donations to wipe out the current debt after a retired Philadelphia businessman, Steve Ravitz, offered to "solve this issue" on Facebook.

“I never heard from anybody,” Ravitz, who owns a chain of ShopRite stores in South Jersey, told the outlet. "I gave up."

Cherry Hill school superintendent Joseph Meloche tells Yahoo Lifestyle in a statement that Ravitz "has not, at any time, contacted the school district with an offer of financial support." Meloche added that he has reached out to Ravitz, but has not heard back.

"The lunch debt issue is a complicated one, as simply wiping away the debt that exists does not solve the problem of families and children who are food insecure and who are struggling to provide meals – both in school and at home," Meloche's statement reads.

The new policy's goal is to identify families who need help and to encourage them to complete a Free and Reduced Price School Meals Application. It also aims to identify parents who can cover their child's debt but have not.

"There are children on the arrears list whose families are struggling, and there are children on the list who come from families and homes with means," Meloche tells Yahoo.

The district encourages those wanting to donate to contribute to its Friday Food Backpack Program, which sends food home with children over the weekend on a weekly basis. The program was launched last year on a $25,000 grant, which has since run out.

“We will continue to advertise that if folks would like to donate funds toward this program, they would certainly be accepted,” Meloche’s statement reads.

Steve Ravitz did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comment.

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