Willingboro School Staff May Throw Out Student Lunches

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    The Washington Post/Getty Images

    No money? No lunch for you.

    That's the new procedure put in place by the Willingboro Board of Education. If a student comes through the lunch line and their parents haven't kept their lunch account funded, and they have no cash on hand, their lunch will be taken away and thrown in the trash.

    The Willingboro Board of Education has instructed its food service vendor to follow that new procedure when kids can't pay for lunch. The only exception is students from low-income families who have already been deemed eligible for free meals.

    "This is dumb. If they are going to throw out the food anyway, you might as well come up with an alternative policy or program to entice parents to enroll," said Dr. Sean Duffy, of the Rutgers-Camden Department of Psychology.  He worries about how this will impact the students who get their lunches taken away.

    "It can be psychologically damaging and self-esteem can be impacted by not having a lunch. It marks one as being unique and is an easy target for bullying."

    School business administrator and board secretary Kelvin Smith outlined the new policy in an August 26 letter to parents. The new lunch procedure went into effect Sept. 5.

    A portion of the letter states: "In the past the Willingboro School District, has provided humanitarian meals to students who have been unable to pay for them. . .If a students goes through the food service line and it is discovered that the student does not have the required funds for a meal, the Chartwells Food service representative has been instructed by the Willingboro Board of Education to withhold the meal from the student, with the understanding that such meal cannot be re-served and must be discarded."

    Humanitarian meals are defined as "meals served to students who are unable or unwilling to pay for such meal(s)."

    "It is surprising the district would take this kind of step. It’s unfortunate and dangerous," said Duffy.

    "The fact that kids are not having a lunch can have a devastating effect on their performance. Hungry kids act out. Proper nutrition is extremely important."

    The Willingboro Board of Education released a statement Tuesday addressing the issue, pointing out that both the Passaic Public School District and the East Orange Public School District have also eliminated and/or limited humanitarian meals. 

    During 2013, the cost to Willingboro taxpayers for the humanitarian meals was $46,261.

    The board statement said that money "could have been used in a variety of other ways to enrich the students' learning experience."

    The board wrote: "The procedure does not apply to students who are entitled to receive free lunch through the National School Lunch Program. The District's new procedure was adopted after much deliberation and recognition of the rising cost of providing humanitarian meals to students. The procedure in no way was meant to demean any student or parent. While the new procedure contemplates the discarding of meals, this measure was required to comply with state health regulations that prohibit the re-serving of meals."

    Tuesday's lunch for Willingboro, N.J. elementary school students consisted of whole grain chicken nuggets, breadstick, chilled canned peaches, assorted fresh fruit, mexican corn, buttermilk coleslaw and milk at a price of $2.05 or a reduced price for those that federally qualify for $.40. 

    The Willingboro Board of Education hopes more families that are eligible for the free federal lunch program will sign up so students are not left without a lunch if their parents can't pay. 


    Contact Sarah Glover at 610-668-5580, sarah.glover@nbcuni.com or follow @skyphoto on Twitter.