A school district in New Jersey passed a ban that stops students who have more than $75 in school lunch “debt” from participating in extracurricular activities—including attending the prom and going on field trips. This policy proposal from the Cherry Hill Public School District first got national backlash a few days ago. A local businessman, Steve Ravitz, even offered to settle all remaining debts. The board, who rejected Ratz’s offer to eliminate the $14,000 debt, said the district’s plan found a “balance of compassion” while “holding people accountable.”
People meaning … kids and teenagers. And yes, this policy applies even to the youngest children. Elementary school students won’t be allowed to go to after-school events or class field trips, while middle and high school students will face the same punitive measures, including no prom and not even being able to buy a yearbook.
These punishments apply until the debt is paid in full, too. So one couldn’t even pay just half, for example, and then still be able to attend the field trip. “The district is not accepting donations toward meal debt,” school spokesperson Barbara Wilson said on Tuesday.
This isn’t the first time this school has come under fire for shaming students. You might recall that in August, the school announced they’d give students with lunch “debt” of $10 or more tuna sandwiches instead of a regular meal. The district floated the idea that if students owed more than $20, they might get no lunch at all. That proposal, as we covered here at Daily Kos, was met with massive outcry. The board withdrew that idea. Somehow, what they’ve come up with now, is worse.
A Cherry Hill East senior, Jacob Graff, asked the school board an entirely reasonable question: “If my mom or dad can't pay for lunch, why should I be restricted from my passions?"
"What are colleges gonna think?" he added. While all students deserve lunch regardless of how well they’re doing academically, it’s a good point that—generally speaking—schools want students to be “successful” and achieve higher education. Stopping kids from participating in sports and clubs just makes them look uninvolved. School-sponsored activities are also some of the safest ways for kids to be occupied, find community, and, frankly, have a safe place to hang out when the school day ends.