Education

Rhode Island school district changes lunch policy to prevent lunch shaming

Students who owe no longer served cold meal only

(CNN) - A Rhode Island public school district has decided to change its policy regarding serving a separate cold meal to students with lunch debt and to "allow students their choice of lunch regardless of their account status."

Warwick Public School caused an uproar last week, when it announced that any students with unpaid balances on their lunch accounts would receive a sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich until their balance was paid.

Several parents were furious about the district's decision to give those students in the district south of Providence a limited midday meal option. They called it lunch shaming.

The Warwick School Committee approved the policy on Tuesday, according to CNN affiliate WPRI. It was proposed last week, the station said.

During the meeting, Karen Bachus, chairwoman of the Warwick School Committee, said there would be no more lunch shaming, the station reported.

"After listening to the thoughts, concerns, and opinions of individuals in Warwick and nationwide, along with careful review and consideration, the Policy Subcommittee is recommending that the Warwick School Committee allow students their choice of lunch regardless of their account status," Bachus said in a statement sent to CNN on Wednesday.

"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," the statement said.

District officials "seek to find a balance between being fiscally responsible and ensuring that all of our students receive a healthy, nutritious lunch," the statement said.

More than 1,600 students had a balance on their lunch accounts as of May 3, ranging from less than $1 to more than $500, according to statement. The total outstanding debt is $77,000. The yogurt company Chobani recently said it would pay off $47,650 of that debt.

About $14,000 had been collected from students with outstanding balances, but that figure is a moving target, according to the statement.

The district is "very flexible" with its payment plan. Once a student is on a plan, their account is in good standing, according to the statement.

Under state law, Rhode Island schools are required to provide lunches to students and those meals must meet minimum federal nutrition standards. Children from low-income families are eligible for free or discounted lunches.

According to the Rhode Island Department of Education, 69% of school lunches in the state are served for free or at a reduced price.

The statement said 72% of the outstanding lunch balances are from students who are not enrolled in the federal free and reduced lunch program.

CNN's Darran Simon and Doug Criss contributed to this report.


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