Return of ‘Lunch shaming’ Ends in Deptford, NJ, Schools
The state Department of Agriculture at the behest of Gov. Phil Murphy ordered the Deptford Township School District to end its lunch debt collection policy that penalized students who owed more than $50.
Superintendent Kevin Kanauss announced the policy in a letter to the district on Sept. 13 citing a "huge financial burden" incurred by the district because of outstanding meal balances that affect district programs, staff, and supplies for students.
The district's lunch debt was $68,000 incurred by 783 families in 2023, district spokesman spokesman Salvatore Randazzo said to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Parents and guardians would be notified about the debt, which can be paid online. Students would still be served breakfast or lunch. But if the bill was not paid within 10 days they could be penalized by not being able to participate in field trips, dances, graduation or receive their report cards.
Deptford ends lunch dept policy
The policy was scrapped by the district on Tuesday, according to a follow-up letter to the district from Kanauss.
"Following feedback and discussion with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, this policy will be suspended effective immediately. All students will be offered school breakfast and lunch, regardless of the balance of their meal account," Kanauss wrote.
The superintendent said the district will re-evaluate its "policy and process" for collecting past due balances.
Gov. Phil Murphy and legislators ended 'lunch shaming' in NJ schools
Gov. Phil Murphy's office got involved in ending Deptford's policy as it violated recent laws designed to prevent lunch shaming.
"The district’s policy went against protections outlined in the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act and the Working Class Families Act, which seek to eliminate school meal policies that stigmatize students over lunch debt and improve identification and participation of students in free and reduced-price meal programs," Murphy spokeswoman Christi Peace said to New Jersey 101.5 in a statement.
The Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act was signed by Murphy in 2020. It prevented schools from taking adverse actions such as denial of meals or public identification measures when a student's account falls into debt.
"The governor and his administration do not support policies that ostracize New Jersey students and thank the district for their cooperation in discontinuing this harmful policy," Peace said.
The Deptford policy is similar to a policy the Cherry Hill school district implemented in 2019 that critics called "lunch shaming." Students with a lunch debt were prohibited from school activities and were given a tuna fish sandwich for lunch instead of choosing from the menu.
The policy was eventually amended by the school board to allow students to order from a modified menu.
A bill that would allow individuals and businesses to pay off a lunch debt and establish a school meal fund was introduced in the state Senate and referred to the Senate Education Committee where it remains.