By Ryen Cinski ‘22
Just this past October of 2019, a New Jersey public school district, Cherry Hill, announced that they would be banning kids who owe lunch money from purchasing prom tickets, going on field trips and participating in other extracurricular activities. The district was met with immense backlash, as this policy will lead to many detriments for the children that it impacts. Cherry Hill’s justification for this policy, was that “the district had $14,343 in unpaid meal debt in the last school year from more than 300 students who had a debt of more than $10” (NJ.com). Although this money does add up, does that make it okay for a child to be punished due to their parents’ lack of funding for meals?
For many, the challenge is struggling to make ends meet – to put a roof over a child’s head, to pay electric, gas, water. Some are simply unable to afford lunch for their child. While the district isn’t stopping the children from eating, they are barring them from milestone experiences, taking away their ability to explore passions other than academics, and in a way, holding them back due to their parents’ inability to pay.
There is a large issue with this policy, many actually, yet the district described their goal as being “responsibility with compassion” (ABC News). Where is the compassion in telling a child who is already financially struggling that they cannot go to a museum with all of their other friends because they owe lunch money. And the worst part, is that they owe this debt to a district that despite this, still turned a $200,000 profit from a $3 million dollar food program (NJ.com).
Because of this stinginess, the district seems to have no sympathy for those already struggling despite their reasoning. Every child should get to go to the museum with their friends, or any field trip for that matter. Every child should be able to join clubs and play sports and meet friends. Every high school student deserves the opportunity to go to their own prom if they want to, a night that only happens once. To tell these children no because they are struggling is heinous.
In ABC News’ discussion of this matter, they also raise the issue of how this barring of those struggling will impact their college applications. Applying to college is an extremely stressful process, and for many of these kids who have been put down because they can’t pay their lunch debt, it will be even more stressful as they’ll have no extracurriculars to put on their applications. A lunch debt is just that, a lunch debt. A life though, an opportunity, a chance, can make all the difference. To take all that away over such a trivial matter is something that deserves the backlash it got, as it makes absolutely no sense. Instead of punishing those who are struggling we should instead focus on how to help them in their struggle, and why they are struggling in the first place.