School district backpedals decision to punish students over lunch fees

By mbrooks on May 10, 2019
File – Students buy their lunch with their scanned fingerprints in Pennsylvania. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

By Matthew Brooks

Rhode Island law requires that every student is provided a school lunch. The ability to pay is not meant to stand in the way of feeding children at school.

Warwick Public Schools, a Rhode Island school district, put together a half-baked plan to encourage parents to pay the lunch fees by providing a presumably cheaper lunch to the children.

The plan did not go over well.

The Facebook post received over a thousand comments. Many comments expressed anger, confusion, and frustration.

“As a former free lunch kid, your actions disgust me,” said one commenter.

Another commenter suggested that superior government-funded meals are given for free to criminals than school children.

Some commenters who say they live in the school district offered to help out.

“I pay my taxes. Please take my money [and] give these children some real food,” one commenter replied.

The proposed policy was posted on Facebook on May 5, with a policy initiation date of May 13, effectively giving parents two weeks to come up with enough funds to cover old lunch fees and to pay for the future lunch fee.

The community and national outrage continued when a local business owner, Angelica Penta of Gel’s Kitchen, offered to donate funds to the district for the school lunches, but  the school district refused to accept it.

Penta told WPRI, a Rhode Island TV station, that the school district denied the donation because, in Penta’s words, “people would get upset if their child’s lunch was being paid for.”

Within a few days, on May 8, Warwick Public Schools made another Facebook post to clarify the proposed policy.

The next day, on May 9, the school district rescinded the limited lunch policy.

The Warwick School Committee released a public statement saying that the district schools would “allow the students their choice of lunch regardless of their account status.”

The issue of equality was also behind the decision to refuse the charitable donation.

WPRI posted the school district’s statement on the TV news website.

“The business owner has maintained a position that they want to make a single, large donation to the district while leaving the student selection process to the school department,” Warwick Public Schools stated. “This is a position that the school department cannot support given the school’s mission to treat all children equitably.”

The proposed policy was scheduled to go into effect on Monday, May 13. Thus, the unpopular plan was not implemented.

No school children, regardless of their parents’ financial payments to the school, were forced to take the other meal. There would be no public sign forced on any school children declaring that their parents were behind on the lunch payments.

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