South Jersey schools enforcing controversial lunch policy to combat outstanding balances

The school year is off to a problematic start for some South Jersey schools thanks to a lunch policy crackdown on unpaid, and overdue accounts.

If your child forgets their breakfast or lunch, or the money to buy one, the Deptford Township School District says they will provide them that meal. 

However, that balance is expected to be paid back the next day, or shortly thereafter, according to the district's Outstanding Food Services Charges policy.

Under the policy, students with a balance of $50 or more will have their meals and activities restricted until the bill is paid by a parent. Those restrictions are based on grade level:

  • Pre-K and kindergarten will still get breakfast and a basic lunch
  • First through fifth grade will get basic lunch, but no breakfast
  • Sixth through twelfth grade will not get breakfast or lunch

Certain extracurricular activities, including report cards, field trips, dances and graduation, will also be restricted.

Parents are asked to meet with the principal if no payment is made after two notices, which take place over the course of 17 days. Further action may be taken by the school district if no meeting occurs, according to the district's policy.

"A parent’s refusal to meet or take other steps to resolve the matter may be indicative of more serious issues in the family or household. In these situations, the Principal or designee shall consult with and seek necessary services from both the County Board of Social Services and the Department of Children and Families, Division of Child Protection and Permanency, as appropriate," the policy reads.

The updated policy, which was initially created in 2015, has sparked outrage among parents, and the community as a whole.

The Deptford Township School District offered this statement when asked about the recent news surrounding the policy:

"The Deptford Township School District is committed to offering nutritional meals to all students. Thanks to federal and state aid, many students in our community are eligible to receive daily breakfast and lunch in school, with zero cost to their family. Households which qualify must submit a completed free and reduced lunch application for these benefits to take effect. For families who qualify for this program, but have not yet completed their application, our staff is here to help. The district’s goal is a 100% participation rate among families who qualify—paperwork should not be a barrier to feeding our students.

In addition to eliminating any accumulating balance for qualifying families, the increased participation in the free and reduced lunch program has the potential to qualify more of our schools as Title I schools, which would result in additional funding to support current and new programs for our students.

For those households which do not qualify for free meals under this program, our goal is open and honest communication regarding balances and payment. We appreciate the continued partnership of our community for the health and well-being of our students."