A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Lunch Debt Debacle – Part 1

By on August 30, 2019 in Students with 0 Comments

By: Lauren E. Tedesco, Esq.
Editor: Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq.

Amassing lunch debt within school districts is not a unique circumstance.  In fact, in our practice representing school districts it is a relatively common occurrence. 

Recently, a South Jersey school district came under scrutiny for proposing what has been dubbed the “Tuna Sandwich Policy” where a student whose lunch account is more than $10 in arrears would be provided a tuna sandwich for lunch as an alternate lunch in lieu of the lunch regularly provided and available.  Those who oppose the proposed policy argue that students who receive a tuna sandwich lunch will be stigmatized by their peers for their parents’ and/or guardians failures to pay their lunch account debt.

So what is the law in New Jersey in this regard?  Is there a law and if so, what does it require?  The answer is yes, there is a statutory provision on the issue which outlines the procedures a school district must take.  The provision, N.J.S.A. 18A:33-21, provides, that when a school district determines a student’s school breakfast or school lunch bill is in arrears, the district must contact the student’s parent or guardian and then provide them with 10 school days to pay the amount due.  If the student’s parent or guardian fails to pay the amount due at the end of the 10 school day period, the school district must again contact the student’s parent or guardian to notify of them that school breakfast or school lunch will not be served to the student beginning one week from the date of the second notice unless the payment is made in full.

The purpose of the statute is to ensure that students are not suddenly denied a school breakfast or school lunch without adequate notice to their parents and guardians of the debt and time to pay the amount owed.

As outlined above, the statute permits a student to be denied service of school breakfast or school lunch.  Although permitted, this is a route that most school districts do not take, nor is such recommended.  Hence, this is where alternate lunches come into play, so students are not denied meals and the district is minimizing further costs to their food service programs.

So what can we do moving forward? How can we harmonize the alleged stigmatization of alternate meals with lowering the overall lunch debt to the school district?  Please stay tuned for Part II of this article series.

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Lauren E. Tedesco

About the Author

About the Author:

Lauren E. Tedesco, Esq. focuses her practice in the representation of public and private sector employers in the areas of labor and employment, school law (including special education) and civil rights law matters. Ms. Tedesco is admitted to practice in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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