Deptford schools ordered to stop serving skimpy lunches to students with unpaid cafeteria debts

A cafeteria worker wraps peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
Photo credit Jamie Germano/Democrat and Chroncile/USA Today Network

SOUTH JERSEY (KYW Newsradio) — A school in South Jersey is no longer serving slapdash meals to students with unpaid cafeteria debts after the state said it violates students’ rights.

Students in the Deptford Township School District who amassed large, unpaid lunch bills were instead provided peanut butter and jelly or cheese sandwiches.

More than 750 kids are hundreds of dollars in the hole. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the unpaid total for the district is $68,000.

Sources in Gov. Phil Murphy’s office said state officials contacted county and local school leaders and told them punishing students for unpaid bills is unacceptable, and it violates the Student Bill of Rights Act and the Working Class Families Act.

The Deptford Township School District was instructed by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to inform parents that the policy is no longer in effect. The district has since dumped the sandwich punishment, sources said.

“Meals in school should be looked at as an investment, not as a cost,” said Sal Valenza with the New Jersey School Nutrition Association, which represents food service workers and advocates for universally provided school meals. He applauded the governor’s swift action.

“Lunch is the only transactional part of the school day, and it shouldn’t be. It should be part of education,” he added.

He noted that students can’t learn if they are hungry. He’s working with lawmakers to make sure meals are provided just like buses and other essential expenses.

Deptford school officials have not responded to KYW Newsradio’s request for comment.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Jamie Germano/Democrat and Chroncile/USA Today Network