Rhode Island Schools To Swap Hot Meals For Cold Sandwiches When Students Owe Lunch Money

A school district in Rhode Island has landed itself in the middle of intense debate and after announcing its intention of swapping a hot meal for a sunflower butter and jelly sandwich for students on the free school lunches if they owe money on their accounts for extras. 

The Warwick Public Schools made the following announcement on the 5 of May through Facebook: “Effective Monday, May 13, 2019, if money is owed on a paid, free, or reduced lunch account a sun butter and jelly sandwich will be given as the lunch choice until the balance owed is paid in full or a payment plan is set up.” 

According to the parents commenting on the Facebook post, the students qualifying for free meals are still able to run up a debt by adding extras to their trays, such as milk, since that is not included in the free lunch. 

Warwick, the second largest city in the state, has a population of just over 80,000.

All public schools in Rhode Island are required by state law to provide lunches, with nearly 70% of those lunches being served for free or at a reduced cost.

In order to qualify for a free meal, students must come from families with an income lower that 130% of the “poverty level.”


Those at 130-185% of the poverty level, can avail of the reduced prices – usually 40 cents or less. 

Anyone who is above these levels pay the standard price set by the school or institution. 

Warwick Public Schools are responsible for 9,000 children in 22 schools, who range from pre-kindergarten to 12 grade. However, according to a report by Fox News, the public schools are saying that they no longer can afford to absorb the costs, seeing as they are owed more that $40,000 in outstanding lunch bills. 

Yet in the past, the school district has refused to take donations. As local restaurant owner, Angelica Penta wrote on Facebook, “I have met with Warwick twice and the second time I left in tears after they refused to take a $4,000 check.”

She added, “They don’t want parents getting upset if their child’s lunch gets paid for, but if they are going through hard times they may need help. I come up with several different ideas and they were all shut down. Please if anyone has any ideas how we can stop this please let me know.”

Penta was one of the many people caught up in the intense debate unfolding on social media. 


While some called the public schools actions “food shaming” the poor, other parents strove for a sense of community by calling on each other to help settle any outstanding debts with donations.

There were still so many people who were angry with Warwick Public Schools decision. 


“A butter and jelly sandwich? That’s a sick punishment that you’re doing to kids. Your school system should be ashamed of yourselves. U don’t even give a kid milk on free meal program?” one person expressed.

Still, there were some people who defended the decision. 

One person pointed out, “This isn’t as cut and dried as people are making out to be. Currently the school department feels that it is fair to not reward their irresponsible behavior but at the same time also make sure that the child has something healthy in their stomach. Sun butter is a non-allergic nut butter similar to peanut butter but made from sunflower seeds and it is packed with protein. Kids love it and it is healthy. And why are you call it ‘shaming’? Maybe the lesson that child takes away is to grow and perhaps they will be motivated to do better by their own children.”

There have been parents who have since set up an online fundraiser to help cover costs of outstanding debts. 

The fundraiser description wrote, “The Warwick Public School System has an outstanding balance of $77,000 for unpaid school lunches. Let’s come together and pay it for the kids, so no one has to be singled out and embarrassed by being denied hot lunch.”

Which side of the debate would you fall on?

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