Trenton, NJ - Governor Phil Murphy signed the Hunger Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act for to help students who are having trouble paying for school lunches in New Jersey on Monday.
The bill seeks to prevent school districts from taking action against students that cannot fully pay for their lunch meals, like denying meals or publicly identifying them in an act they called “lunch shaming”.
“We have an obligation to ensure that our schools are safe, nurturing environments for our students and maximize the reach of beneficial programs. No child deserves to be shamed over school lunch debt," Gov. Murphy said.
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In 2019, the Cherry Hill School District came under fire twice due to its policy around school lunch debt.
Parents were outraged when the school district began implementing a 2-year-old policy that served students only tuna fish if they had a debt of $10.
"There has to be a more private penalty rather than public shaming," Cherry Hill East student body president Oliver Adler said at that time.
Shortly after the outcry, the school district amended its policy. However, now, their policy states that if a child owes $75 or more in lunch debt then they are prohibited from participating in school activities, attend class field trips or go to prom.
The bill also requires that school districts provide all parents and guardians with the information necessary to maximize participation in these lunch programs meant to help students.
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It also requires a liaison for homeless students to ensure that these students receive free meals.
“I find it totally unacceptable that children, whose families may be struggling to pay for any number of reasons, are being singled out,” said Assemblywoman Angela Knight, “Taking a meal away from a child, forcing them to sit at a particular table or stand at the back of the lunch line, withholding grades and barring them from school trips or even prom hinders productive learning. It’s bullying and in no way appropriate.”
Governor Murphy closed down schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year due to the coronavirus so the bill will still be put into motion when schools open again in the fall.
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