Warwick schools put sunbutter sandwich policy on hold

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Warwick schools working on way to accept donations for lunch debt

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) —  After a recommendation from a subcommittee, the Warwick School Committee has decided to hold off on providing students who can’t afford a hot lunch with a sunbutter and jelly sandwich.

Warwick Public Schools initially said a new policy starting Monday would provide students who could not afford lunch with a sunbutter and jelly sandwich until the balance is paid in full or a payment plan is set up.

At a meeting Wednesday, the Warwick School Committee said the sunbutter sandwich policy will not be implemented as planned after a subcommittee’s recommendation to allow students their choice of lunch regardless of account status.

“With this policy, we seek to find a balance between being fiscally responsible and ensuring that all our students are provided with a healthy, nutritious lunch,” Warwick Public Schools said in a statement.

But school officials say parents still need to be held accountable.

“We need to get this under control. We need parents to take responsibility going forward. By law, we can’t not feed a child lunch. The policy to give our students sun-butter and jelly sandwich versus whatever entree they pick, we’re taking that out, and they will just continue as usual,” Chairwoman Karen Bachus said.

In response to the school department’s policy, Mayor Joseph Solomon said that he is concerned about the negative impact it will have on students.

“Continuing this policy could impact our children’s social development,” Solomon said in a statement. “It also sends the wrong message to our students regarding what the City of Warwick is actually about – ensuring that our students are in a positive environment where they can focus on learning, develop strong relationships, and not be distracted by other issues.”

Warwick Public Schools are also now considering accepting community donations they initially rejected.

Warwick Public Schools said on Twitter Wednesday that they’re “working on a way to accept donations and equitably distribute them.” School officials also said Wednesday total lunch debts were $77,000, with only $21,000 (or 28 percent) coming from families who subsequently qualified for free or reduced lunch.

In March 2018, the owner of Gel’s Kitchen Angelica Penta started a money jar to help students who struggle to afford lunch.

More than a year later, she said she presented a $4,000 check to both West Warwick and Warwick to put towards school lunch debt. West Warwick Public Schools accepted the check from her and will apply it at the end of the year, but Warwick Public Schools would not accept her donation.

This is a change of tune from earlier in the week when the Warwick Public Schools said in a statement that, “it 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.”

The school department said they are now working with their attorneys to ensure all donations are accepted, “in compliance with the law and that the donations are applied in an equitable manner.”

This move also comes soon after the policy made national headlines and appeared on “The Talk” on CBS.

The show’s hosts explained the story to their audience using footage from Eyewitness News reports, then made a pledge to students.

“We want to say, we’ll come up with $20,000 and all the big wigs at CBS, CBS Corporate, we’d like you to come up with the other $20,000 and get the money there by Friday,” Co-host Sharon Osbourne said.

Penta said she is happy that the committee is now considering accepting her donation. She also said since her efforts have received tons of attention, she is confident she will eventually be able to pay the school’s lunch debt in full.

“We are so thankful for everyone that has donated,” Penta said. “Without everybody donating, we would not be able to do this or fight for these kids and make sure that everybody is able to get a meal.” 

A GoFundMe page was created Tuesday to raise money to pay off the school lunch debt. So far it has raised more than $49,000 as of 7:30 Thursday morning.

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