A group of public schools have sparked outrage after announcing cold sandwiches would be served to children whose parents owed money for unpaid lunches.
Parents expressed their horror online, slamming the government-run schools, in Rhode Island, for punishing children for something beyond their control.
The announcement was made to Warwick Public Schools’ Facebook on May 6, with the post declaring the harsh policy would come into effect from May 13.
Parents usually select their child’s meals from a menu and pay for them online - topping up their account balance according to what their child ate.
But the schools said too many parents failed to pay off arrears, so in a move to incentivise debt payment, children would be served a “sun butter and jelly sandwich”.
Children would continue to be served the sandwich “until the balance owed is paid in full or a payment plan is set up” the post stated.
The announcement received fiery backlash from hundreds of angry parents, some comparing the treatment to meal options available to criminals in prison.
“Why do inmates eat better than school children, and at no cost? Infuriating,” a social media user wrote in a comment beneath the post.
Many parents argued the accounting systems operated by the schools was not always correct - some claiming to have paid off debt but to still be receiving bills.
Several agreed children should never be punished by a system created and dictated by adults, particularly one that was flawed.
“The fact that some kids will have to suffer due to something that could be beyond their control is awful,” someone wrote.
“I don’t even get how you explain this to a kindergartener or first grader.. ‘No sorry sweetie you have to eat the most disgusting thing the school offers’,” another said.
School Committee chairwoman Karen Bachus argued the policy needed to be enforced due to the growing financial strain largely a result of unpaid lunches.
“This policy actually comes out of a serious debt that we’re incurring by people who are not paying for their lunches, and it’s getting worse,” Ms Bachus told The Providence Journal.
By the financial year ending June 30, the schools would be grappling to offset more than $40,000 due to parents not paying for their children’s lunch, Ms Bachus said.
Parents struggling financially could apply annually to receive cheaper student meals, which would mean instead of paying $2.65 for breakfast, they would pay 45 cents.
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