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October 23, 2019

Cherry Hill school district rejects donor's offer to pay $14,000 lunch debt

Students owing more than $75 will not be permitted to attend proms or field trips

Officials with the Cherry Hill Public Schools this week rejected a Philadelphia donor's offer to pay the lunch debt owed by students amid announcements that students with outstanding lunch fees would not be able to attend their proms or field trips.

Cherry Hill school district superintendent Joseph Meloche said it would not accept donations toward the $14,343 meal debt incurred by more than 340 students.

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In August, a controversial plan proposed that students with fees above $10 would receive a tuna sandwich instead of a hot meal. That's when former Cherry Hill resident and business owner Steve Ravitz posted on Facebook, saying he would "be happy to solve this issue" by paying off the debt. 

But Ravitz says he never heard from the district.

The New Jersey district, which is now making international headlines for "lunch-shaming," has said it believes some parents with outstanding fees can afford to pay it. 

“Simply erasing the debt does not address the many families with financial means who have just chosen not to pay what is owed,” Meloche and Cherry Hill school board president Eric Goodwin said in a joint statement.

A month after the tuna sandwich proposal, the district announced that all students, regardless of debt, would still be able to select a hot meal for lunch. But they would not be able to participate in school activities like proms or school trips. 

Under the current plan, students with a debt under $10 will still receive a hot meal. When the debt reaches $25, parents will be contacted to discuss the balance and financial needs. At $75, parents will be called for a mandatory meeting with school officials and students will not be able to participate in activities until the bill is paid.

The Inquirer reported that statewide, New Jersey schools serve about 225,000 free or reduced-price breakfasts and 400,000 free or reduced-price lunches. And about 20% of Cherry Hill's 11,000 student base are eligible for reduced-price or free meals.

CEO of LaColombe coffee, Todd Carmichael, recently paid a $22,467 check to a Northeastern Pennsylvania school district also accused of "lunch-shaming." Carmichael, who said he grew up relying on free lunches, was initially rejected by the Wyoming Valley West School District in Luzerne County. The district eventually issued an apology and accepted the donation.

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