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Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D-Mount Laurel) has introduced legislation to provide anti-stigmatization protections to public school students whose school lunch bills are in arrears.
“We should not punish our students for the economic challenges their family faces,” said Murphy.
Murphy’s bill comes just as the Cherry Hill Board of Education is considering a plan to feed tuna fish sandwiches to students with overdue lunch bills.
Lynn Shugars, the assistant superintendent of schools, presented the tuna meal option to the local school board Tuesday night as a way combating unpaid lunch bills.
Under the plan, students whose owe more than $10 will get tuna on wheat bread; no lunch will be provided if the balance goes beyond $20.
She defended the option as more than just a tuna.
“So it’s not just a tuna fish sandwich, it’s an actual meal. The child has an option to take milk, juice, cucumber sticks, carrot sticks, and fruit or vegetable that comes with it as well,” Shugars told the board. “It’s on whole wheat and it meets all of the nutritional standards that are required by the USDA.”
“We opted for tuna fish over peanut butter because we know that our little ones would probably very happily eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until the end of time,” Shugars said.
The Philadelphia Inquirer was first to report the story.
According to Shugars, the school district was owed $18,887 from 1,723 local families for unpaid lunches. More than three-quarters of the delinquent accounts came from 343 families, she explained.
“We have not stopped serving lunch to the students and that is part of the reason we have some of the balances we have accumulated so far,” Sugars said.
She said she’s concerned that if parents continue not to pay their lunch bills, it might cause other to think they don’t have to pay them as well.
Shugars said collections has been a problem – bills are sent every ten days — and that one parent told her staff they could stick the bill “where the sun doesn’t shine.”
She was not entirely unsympathetic in her presentation.
“The hard part is that there are children involved,” Shugars said. “Our heartstrings are pulled when children are involved.”
Superintendent Joseph Meloche defended the proposed policy in a statement on Thursday.
“Children have not been denied a meal,” Meloche said. “There are certain families who do not respond to outreach from the District and from their schools. Others respond that although they are not facing any hardships, they have no intention of paying their bill at all.”
The Cherry Hill Board of Education will vote on the plan at their August 27 meeting.Cherry Hill Tuna Policy