A Rhode Island school district has changed its lunch policy following national backlash after it said students who owed money would only be served jelly sandwiches

Students will not be limited to cold sandwiches.

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Students will not be limited to cold sandwiches.
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Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

  • Warwick Public Schools in Rhode Island has changed its controversial cold sandwich policy after facing national backlash.
  • Previously, the district stated that starting on Monday, May 13, students who owe money for paid, free, or reduced-price lunches will be served only “sun butter and jelly” sandwiches.
  • This is because the district had accumulated $77,000 of school lunch debt over the course of the budget year.
  • Students will now have their choice of lunch, regardless of their account’s balance.
  • Additionally, the school committee is working on a way to accept donations which would absolve the district of the debt.
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Warwick Public Schools in Rhode Island has changed its controversial cold sandwich policy after facing national backlash.

Previously, the district stated that starting on Monday, May 13, students who owe money for paid, free, or reduced-price lunches will be served “sun butter and jelly” sandwiches. Sun butter is comparable to peanut butter, but it is made out of sunflower seeds.

The policy was set into motion after the district had accumulated $77,000 of school lunch debt over the course of the budget year. A new budget is set to turn over on June 30.

“This policy actually comes out of a serious debt that we’re incurring by people who are not paying for their lunches, and it’s getting worse,” the School Committee’s chairwoman Karen Bachus told the Providence Journal.

But after announcing the policy, there were growing concerns within the local community and on a national level.

“I just don’t think it’s fair to hold the kids responsible. I think it’s embarrassing to the kids because now everyone’s going to know why these children are receiving the lunch that they are,” Heather Vale, who has two children in Warwick Middle School, told WLNE.

Others agreed, worrying that it would alienate students without solving the issue at hand.

“That doesn’t seem right. I don’t know what the solution is,” Julle Hener, who also has two children in the district, told the Providence Journal. “I understand they need to collect that money somehow, too, but how to do it, I don’t know.”

The district has reversed the policy

It seems that the district heard the feedback loud and clear.

On Wednesday, Bachus wrote that the “policy subcommittee is recommending that the Warwick School Committee allow students their choice of lunch regardless of their account status.”

“This will prevent any emotional upset for our students and make certain that all of our students receive at least one nutritious meal every day at school,” she wrote in a second, similar letter dated Friday, May 10 shared on her personal Facebook. “Please understand that through this Policy we seek to find a balance between being fiscally responsible and ensuring that all of our students receive a healthy, nutritious lunch.”

In the May 10 letter, Bachus wrote that as of May 3, 1,653 students had an outstanding balance on their lunch account. “[On Monday and Tuesday, approximately] $14,000 was collected from individuals with outstanding balances,” she wrote. “However, this is a moving target. As of today, more debt was incurred.”

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Warwick is trying to factor donations into its plan

A number of groups have also offered to make donations to the district to help with the debt.

According to WLNE, Angelica Penta the owner of Gel’s Kitchen, a local restaurant, offered to contribute $4,000 to help pay off the debt.

But the district’s chief budget officer, Anthon Ferrucci, reportedly declined her offer because it wouldn’t be fairly distributed among all students.

In a post on Facebook, Penta wrote that she has set up donation jars in her restaurant.

Penta’s neighbor also set up a GoFundMe to help contribute to the lunch debt. By Friday evening, it had raised over $55,000 of its $77,000 goal.

“Let’s come together and pay it for the kids,” the page says. “So no one has to be singled out and embarrassed by being denied hot lunch.”

The district is also directly soliciting donations.

On Thursday, the CEO of Chobani Hamdi Ulukaya offered to pay off the debt.

“As a parent, this news breaks my heart. For every child, access to naturally nutritious and delicious food should be a right, not a privilege. When our children are strong, our families are stronger,” Ulukaya said. “And when our families are strong, our communities are stronger. Business can and must do its part to solve the hunger crisis in America and do its part in the communities they call home.”