School lunches need to be free

editorial cartoon by Danielle De Luna
editorial cartoon by Danielle De Luna

Ensuring students are well fed while they earn an education should be a top priority for any public school, but this is not the case for public schools in Rhode Island.

Students within the Rhode Island school district who owe money on their lunch accounts will only be served a cold lunch sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches until their debt is either paid in full or a payment plan is set up.

The policy was set to be in effect starting May 13, but after receiving backlash the district reversed its decision to serve cold lunches instead of hot lunches to the students with outstanding debt.

The school district said that the total debt owed outstanding lunch payments is $77,000.

The National Lunch Program provides low-cost or free lunches to over 30.4 million children daily, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

In 2016, the program provided five billion lunches to students.

In Rhode Island, it is mandated by law to serve lunch to all students, and a policy is currently in the works to make lunch free for all students.

Until there is a policy making lunch free for all students, students who may not have the money to afford a hot lunch would have been forced to eat a cold sandwich.

After hearing this story, a restaurant owner initially raised $4,000 to donate to the district to help with the debt, but the donation was denied by the district.

The district said it was not in the position to decide where the donation goes or to which student should receive the aid.

In the school district, breakfast costs $1.85 and lunch costs $3. Parents are to pay nearly $5 every day to make sure their children are well fed, but not all parents have the ability to spend that much money five days a week throughout the entire school year.

The policy alienates children from low income backgrounds.

More importantly, students should have a hot meal while they attend school. Support for the students continued with Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya offering to pay the debt.

The school district has since said that it is working with experts to accept the donations legally and has since reversed the decision to deny hot lunches to students with outstanding debt.

It should not take backlash from parents and donations to make sure we take care of children. It takes a certain lack of humanity and compassion to deny children their right to a hot, nutritious meal.

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