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- The Warwick, Rhode Island school district has a new lunch policy.
- If a student owes money for paid, free, or reduced price lunches, they won’t be offered a hot meal.
- Starting on Monday, May 13, those students will be served “sun butter and jelly” sandwiches.
- The district is being criticized for the policy, which was instated after it brought in $40,000 worth of lunch debt this year.
- The community is trying to raise money to absorb the debt.
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The Warwick, Rhode Island school district has a new lunch policy.
If a student owes money for paid, free, or reduced price lunches, they won’t be given a hot lunch, the district announced in a Facebook post on Sunday. Instead, on Monday, May 13, those students will be served “sun butter and jelly” sandwiches. Sun butter is comparable to peanut butter, but it is made out of sunflower seeds.
According to the Providence Journal, the district enacted the policy after it incurred $40,000 in unpaid lunch debt this school year. Other local outlets, including WJAR and the Warwick Post, reported that officials said the school district has $77,000 of lunch debt. The budget will 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 newspaper.
Community members are concerned the move could embarrass kids
Members of the community aren’t sure this is the best solution.
“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.
“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.”
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.
“He just refused to be helpful in any size, shape or form other than to say no,” Warwick City Councilor Anthony Sinapi told the local ABC affiliate.
Penta said she and Ferrucci couldn’t seem to agree.
“Everything that I said got shut down,” Penta told NBC 10 News. “Every idea I had got shut down.”
In a statement to NBC 10 News, the Warwick School District shared why it couldn’t approve Penta’s proposal.
“On a number of occasions, Warwick Public Schools has been approached by a local business owner who has solicited funds from the community for the benefit of students that have not paid for their school lunches,” the statement said. “Each time these offers were made, Warwick Public Schools stated that the school department was not in the position to single out or identify specific students that should be selected for a reduction in their lunch debt while excluding others.”
Instead, the district offered a solution: For Penta to “create a program to decide which students would be eligible to have their account reduced or expunged by the donations the business owner had available. Applications could then be reviewed by the business owner and donations could be made to accounts selected by the business owner.”
In a post on Facebook, Penta wrote that she has set up donation jars in her restaurant.
“There is no need for any child to be denied a hot lunch,” she wrote. “We never know a child’s or their families situation, everyone struggles at some point.”
A GoFundMe has also been set up to help contribute to the lunch debt. By Wednesday evening, it had raised over $13,000 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.”
A representative for the Warwick School District didn’t immediately respond to INSIDER’s request for comment.
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