New Jersey town proposes ban on extracurricular activities for students who owe lunch debt

A New Jersey school district has proposed a new rule that would prohibit students with lunch debt from participating in extracurricular activities, including prom.

The school board in Cherry Hill, N.J., approved the plan — which includes a number of penalties for children with unpaid balances — on Tuesday night, NBC News reported.

Once a student's debt reaches $75 or more, the policy states, high schoolers may be barred from "purchasing tickets for school dances including proms; attending class trips including the Senior Trip; and purchasing a yearbook."

The plan, which offers similar punishments for middle and elementary school students, can be enforced at the discretion of each principal. The policy also states that children who owe money can be denied à la carte lunch items. However, the schools will be required to still provide them with a hot lunch.

"It is an elitist assumption on the part of this school board that parents are not paying this bill because they don't want to," Cherry Hill resident Vibiana Cvetkovic said at Tuesday's school board meeting

Cherry Hill's new plan comes two months after the town received criticism for its previous lunch policy, which denied hot lunches to children who owed money on their accounts. 

"Cutting off kids’ lunches? Ridiculous. Unacceptable. [I] will get to the bottom of this to make sure it doesn’t happen. We are a community that’s better and smarter than this!" Cherry Hill Township Council President David Fleisher wrote on Facebook in response to that policy.

The new plan will provide numerous opportunities for a child's parents to pay off the debt, requiring administrators to contact a student's family once their balance reaches a certain amount. Still, some residents saw this as an unhelpful measure.

"[This policy] discounts ... the very real probability of mental illness in the families — anxiety, depression, parents who can't open their letters or answer their phones because they're just too scared," another resident, Elizabeth Idler, said at Tuesday's meeting.

Cherry Hill Superintendent Joseph Meloche, meanwhile, suggested some critics had not actually read the new plan, emphasizing the ability of a principal to enact the policy at their own discretion.

"Our goal is responsibility with compassion," he said.