School district reverses decision to serve cold sandwiches to kids who owe lunch money

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By: CBS News, Associated Press
May 9, 2019

A Rhode Island school district reversed its decision to start serving cold sandwiches instead of hot lunches next week to students whose families owe lunch money.

Warwick Public Schools had said it would serve sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches to students whose families are in arrears beginning Monday, sparking a public backlash and upsetting the mayor, who asked the school committee to reconsider. The district said it was owed about $77,000 for lunches and couldn't absorb more debt.

School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus said Wednesday on Facebook that committee members have now recommended that students get their choice of lunch regardless of their account status. About 1,650 students owed money as of last Friday. About 70 percent of those students are not enrolled in the program for free or reduced price lunches, according to Bachus.

This week, about $14,000 was collected from families with outstanding balances after the cold sandwich policy was announced, Bachus said. She said they're seeking to find a balance between being fiscally responsible and ensuring that all students get a healthy, nutritious lunch.

She also said they're working with attorneys on a way to accept donations to help settle lunch debt.

Angelica Penta, whose son goes to a school in the district, said she offered $4,000 to pay off students' lunch debt, and that her donation was turned down, CBS News' Caitlin O'Kane reported. Penta said she started raising money to pay off school lunch debt last year, after hearing about a girl being "lunch shamed" in one of the schools. Penta, who owns two restaurants in Warwick and West Warwick, Rhode Island, eventually raised $8,000 in donations from customers.

Critics say such lunch debt policies shame children for something outside of their control. Pending legislation would change state law making free hot lunches available for all students regardless of income.