New Jersey pupils with $75 lunch debt banned from prom and field trips

A US high school lunch of nuggets, biscuits, apple sauce and waterImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption A US high school lunch (file image)

A US school district has banned students who have more than $75 (£58) in lunch debt from attending the prom and other extra-curricular activities.

The school board president of Cherry Hill in New Jersey said the plan struck a “balance of compassion” while “holding people accountable”.

A businessman said he would settle the debts but the board rejected his offer.

The prom ban was brought in after previous measures taken by the district were condemned as “lunch-shaming”.

In August, Cherry Hill had announced that students behind on payments would only be given tuna sandwiches rather than a full meal.

Following a public outcry, the board withdrew the policy, replacing it with the ban on indebted students taking part in extra-curricular activities.

The district has 19 schools with a total of about 11,350 students, of whom about 20% are eligible for reduced-price or free meals, The Inquirer reports.

A meal at Cherry Hill costs $3, rising to $3.10 for high school students

Why was the donation rejected?

Steve Ravitz, who runs a Cherry Hill supermarket chain, posted on Facebook earlier in September that he would be “happy to solve this issue”.

But a later post from Mr Ravitz said: “I understand that the board has decided to NOT accept any significant donation to help with the ‘lunch’ issue. Strange.”

Eric Goodwin, the school board president, said a one-time charitable donation would not help families address underlying problems, the Courier Post reports.

Simply erasing the debt does not address the many families with financial means who have just chosen not to pay what is owed,” he told the Inquirer.

How has this become a political issue?

Democratic presidential candidates have lambasted the policy and used it to bolster their campaigns.

“No child should go hungry at school – period,” Cory Booker posted on Twitter. “As president, I will fight for universal free school lunch and relieve all school lunch debt.”

“‘School lunch debt’ is not a phrase that should exist,” Bernie Sanders said.

Elizabeth Warren labelled the policy as “cruel and punitive”.

“Every kid needs and deserves a nutritious meal in order to learn at school,” she posted on Twitter.

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