New Jersey town's students whose lunch debt goes over $75 could be barred from prom

The Cherry Hill school board backed off a prior plan to serve tuna sandwiches to students with lunch debt.
School dance
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By Minyvonne Burke

A suburban New Jersey school district that was criticized for proposing a plan to serve tuna sandwiches to students who owed lunch money approved a policy that would prohibit children with lunch debt from attending activities such as the prom.

According to the new policy approved by the Cherry Hill school board Tuesday night, students in the district, about 9 miles east of Philadelphia, who have overdue balances will receive a hot meal but not a la carte items.

If a student's lunch debt climbs to more than $75, high school students may be barred from purchasing tickets for school dances including proms until the bill is paid in full, the policy states.

It will be up to each school's principal whether to enforce the policy, which includes the possibility of banning high school and middle school students who owe more than $75 from participating in extracurricular activities, attending class trips and buying a yearbook until the debt is settled.

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At elementary schools, students may not be allowed to participate in after-school events or go on class trips until their $75 balance is paid off, according to the policy.

The new policy quickly drew some criticism.

"It is an elitist assumption on the part of this school board that parents are not paying this bill because they don't want to," resident Vibiana Cvetkovic said at a meeting Tuesday, according to the Courier-Post.

Jacob Graff, a student board member, expressed concern that the policy could hurt those applying for college if they are banned from participating in extracurricular activities.

The policy also states that school officials will make several attempts to contact the student's parents regarding the unpaid bill and will encourage them to apply for free or reduced lunch if they have not already done so.

In August, the Cherry Hill school district came under fire after it proposed giving tuna sandwiches to students who owed more than $10 in lunch debt and no food to those who had a balance of more than $20.

In a statement at the time, Superintendent Joseph Meloche said a student has never been denied lunch because of a delinquent bill. He also said that in 2017, the district's $25,000 lunch debt was erased but has since climbed again to $18,000.

"Simply erasing the debt does not help those who need support and compassion and meals through the Free & Reduced Meal Programs," he wrote. "Simply erasing the debt does not address the many families with financial means who have just chosen not to pay what is owed."