Cherry Hill School District revises controversial lunch debt policy

CHERRY HILL, New Jersey (WPVI) -- The Cherry Hill Public School Board has voted to change its policy on school lunch debt as it works to find a solution to encourage delinquent parents to pay up.

The revised policy allows students who have outstanding lunch debt to choose a hot lunch from the 'meal of the day' menu but no a la carte items.

The latest rule prohibits students with $75 of overdue meal fees from participating in activities like prom, extracurricular activities or buying a yearbook.

"If my mom or dad can't pay for lunch, why should I be restricted from my passions?" said Jacob Graff, a senior at Cherry Hill East.

Even with the more lenient changes, parents are disappointed children are being punished for parent's lack of payment.

Dr. Vibiana Cvetkovic raised her children in the district. Now her grandchildren attend Cherry Hill Public Schools.

"It fills me with absolute dismay that this board would ever consider such a regulation for our children," she said.

Under the previous policy, Cherry Hill Public School District students owing more than $10 would only be allowed tuna sandwich meals.

Once a $20 debt was accrued, the student would not receive any food from the school at all, though 6abc is told this part of the policy was never enforced.

"Whatever meal a child walks through the line with and presents the cashier, is the meal they will be fed--whether they have money in their account or not," said Superintendent Dr. Joe Meloche.

The superintendent says that this new rule actually breaks from state policy which requires that meals be withheld.

There is an outstanding lunch debt of $15,000 in the school district with an operating budget of more than $200 million.

In order to collect, the school principal and guidance counselor will reach out to parents by letter, requesting payment. If the debt isn't paid within 10 days, the administration will make a phone call. If the debt reaches $75, they'll hold an in-person meeting.

The administration will also suggest families sign up for free or reduced lunch which some say isn't an option.

"Immigrant families are afraid to fill out applications for subsidies in fear they will not get citizenship," said Dr. Cvetkovic.
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