WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — After initially deciding to postpone the discussion of adopting a new school lunch policy, the Warwick School Committee ultimately approved a new policy that would prevent “lunch shaming.”
The committee recently scrapped a modified policy they were using to curb student lunch debt, which provided students with a sunflower butter and jelly sandwich until they paid off their balance or have set up a payment plan.
The new policy ensures no student will be the victim of lunch shaming, which is defined as taking back a student’s meal if they can’t pay for it. It provides students with their choice of hot or cold lunch regardless of their account balance.
The committee was also slated to discuss how they would collect school lunch debt, but it was held until their next meeting. The proposed policy would be similar to the one in place prior to the alternative lunch policy, according to an email sent to the superintendent by Warwick Public School’s Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci.
In the proposed policy, Warwick Public Schools would utilize the small claims court process, which would ensure parents pay their child’s lunch debt with assistance from the school’s attorney.
According to Ferrucci, “only after announcing the re-implementation of a school-based consequence did the office start to receive significant contributions towards the balances on the account.”
He said as of last Thursday, the district’s total lunch debt dropped from approximately $77,000 to nearly $69,000.
The district’s excessive school lunch debt made national headlines in March 2018 when Angelica Penta, owner of Gel’s Kitchen, started a money jar to help students who struggle to afford lunch in West Warwick. She eventually expanded it to include Warwick as well.
More than a year later, she was the first to present both West Warwick and Warwick schools with a donation of $4,000. West Warwick Public Schools accepted the check from her and said they will apply it to their school lunch debt at the end of the year. Warwick Public Schools initially denied her donation but changed their mind after receiving public backlash.
Yogurt company Chobani is making a more than $47,000 donation to help pay off lunch debt in the district. The hosts of “The Talk” pledged approximately $40,000 between them and CBS corporate. A GoFundMe page set up for the district has already raised more than $57,000.
Though the district is now willing to accept those donations, the committee still needs to approve them.
Warwick School Committee members said if they receive more than what is currently owed, they may set up a school lunch fund to put towards future lunch debt.
The proposed policy on collecting school lunch debt will be discussed at the committee’s next meeting on May 21.