Why This New Jersey School Could Start Telling Students "No Money, No Lunch"


A new policy set by a school district in Willingboro, New Jersey that will eliminate free lunches for students who have no money in their accounts is raising outrage from parents who say the new policy will allow kids to go hungry. But the policy raises a difficult dilemma for school districts who wish to enforce fair free or reduced-cost lunch programs.

Parents fear the new policy could effectively starve students by literally disposing of food in front of them should they lack the funds to pay for it. This "no money, no lunch" approach is disturbing given that available nourishment for children would be thrown away, a cruel way to punish children for their parents' failure to file appropriate paperwork for lunch subsidies. The dilemma is an indication that food subsidy programs for children in need require an overhaul even in the United States, where food supplies are flourishing compared with the rest of the world.

This controversial decision was made by the Willingboro, New Jersey school board after many parents failed to register for the school's free and reduced lunch program. The district claims that parents are provided a letter from the school each year in which they can sign up for the federally funded "Free and Reduced Lunch" programs to register children for subsidized meal programs. Parents can also fill out these forms online at will. The school board claims that parents have failed to do so in the past despite reminders, and hopes the new program would provide parents with adequate time and warning to ensure proper forms are filed for any children in need of lunch assistance in advance of throwing food away in front of a child in need.

But Thomas Kersting, a psycotherapist and school counselor, told Fox & Friends that, while he found the policies "a little harsh," should food be disposed in front of a child it could serve as a "teaching moment."

But this approach unnecessarily punishes children. The risks in this case may be overblown, as the school district has indicated it has no intention to dispose of food and has enacted the policy purely to motivate parents in advance to file forms. "We have guidance counselors and outreach personnel that would reach out well before this happened," said Dr. Ronald Taylor, school superintendent. But the crux of the policy unfairly pins punishment on children for a parental responsibility. It is the parents in this case, and not a hungry child, who should ever bear the burden of learning a lesson about how to appropriately register for lunch funding.

Still, the problem remains that this school district claims it is unable to gain sufficient federal funding to continue to feed children as parents are failing to file the necessary paperwork. School districts like the one in Willingboro must work to develop sufficient incentives to educate and motivate parents to take the appropriate action to keep children fed in schools that instead take every measure to avoid punishing the students themselves.