The What Not To Do Award Goes To The Cherry Hill Public Schools in New Jersey For Punishing Parents Who Will Not Pay the Lunch Bill
Cherry Hill Public Schools in New Jersey recently made a controversial decision to ban students from prom and field trips over unpaid lunch bills. School officials said that over 340 students owed a collective total of $14,343, which has put a serious strain on the district’s finances. A good samaritan offered to pay off the debt, but the school district rejected his offer.
We have a question: when is it ok to punish parents who are too poor to pay for their child's lunch?
Our answer: never.
However, that is what the Cherry Hill school district in New Jersey believes is the right thing to do, because the parents who are not paying the bill for the lunch don't want to pay....not they cannot pay.
Can anyone get a school district to change their mind? Like....now. Let's take politics out of education.
From Popular Science:
Penalizing kids for school lunch debt can harm their mental health
Affordable, nutritious lunches are key for students' overall health and academic success.
By Nicole Wetsman
Updated: October 24, 2019
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NEWS | OCT 26, 2019 AT 11:48 AM.
School Bans Students From Prom, Trips for Unpaid Lunches Then Rejects Donations
A good samaritan's offer to pay off the debts was rejected by the school.
Cherry Hill Public Schools in New Jersey recently made a controversial decision to ban students from prom and field trips over unpaid lunch bills. School officials said that over 340 students owed a collective total of $14,343, which has put a serious strain on the district’s finances.
Initially, the school district proposed that students who owed more than $10 in lunch debt would not be able to get a hot meal, but instead, would only have access to a tuna sandwich. However, they quickly replaced that policy with one that would ban students from activities if they were deep enough in debt to their school.
The outrageous policies have made headlines all over the world, but school officials do not appear to be backing down. Steve Ravitz, a local good samaritan from Philadelphia, heard about the situation on the news and offered to pay off the debts so students wouldn’t be singled out because of their financial situation. However, his offer to pay off the debts was rejected by the school, leading many to believe the district is intent on punishing the children.
Cherry Hill School District Superintendent Joseph Meloche suggested that many of these families actually do have the means to pay the lunch debts, but are just choosing not to.
“Simply erasing the debt does not address the many families with financial means who have just chosen not to pay what is owed,” Meloche and Cherry Hill School Board President Eric Goodwin said in a joint statement, according to Philly Voice.
The current policy at the school will impose a mandatory meeting between parents and school officials once a debt of $75 has accumulated. At that point, the student will be unable to participate in most school activities.
A similar case happened recently with the Wyoming Valley West School District in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, which also imposed penalties on children over lunch debts. In that case CEO of LaColombe Coffee, Todd Carmichael, offered to pay off the debts and was also denied at first, but his offer was eventually accepted after the school received enough complaints.
Carmichael wrote a check for $22,467 to absolve the debts of the children in the district. Carmichael said that because he had to rely on free lunches when he grew up, he could relate to the children who were unable to cover their debts.
By John Vibes | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com
City Shuts Downs Preschoolers’ Farm Stand Citing Zoning Violations
The Little Ones Learning Center in Forest Park, Georgia, has often sold its produce with discounts to local food stamp recipients and other neighbors and has been acknowledged as a leader in the farm-to-school healthy food movement.
Tuesday, September 24, 2019
It’s like something out of The Onion: city manager shuts down preschool farm stand out of fear that, if allowed, “we could end up with one on every corner.”
Farm Stand Shut Down
Alas, this is not satire. It’s the current predicament facing the Little Ones Learning Center in Forest Park, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. In an area where access to fresh fruits and vegetables can be limited, this preschool has stepped up to prioritize growing and selling fresh produce from its school gardens. According to recent reporting in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Little Ones has often sold its produce with generous discounts to local food stamp recipients and other neighbors and has been acknowledged as a leader in the farm-to-school healthy food movement.
Despite protests from community members, city officials are holding firm to their stance that allowing one farm stand could lead to an unruly proliferation of fresh produce.
“Anywhere you live, you’ve got to have rules and regulations,” Forest Park City Manager Angela Redding said. “Otherwise, you would just have whatever,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
That “whatever” is exactly the hope and promise that irks central planners. Whatever symbolizes what is possible when individuals and organizations spontaneously create new streams of value for their neighbors. Whatever are opportunities for mutual gain through voluntary exchange. Whatever are new inventions, new services, and new ways of living and being that augment our existence and improve our future. Whatever is freedom.
Central Planners Are Threatened by Freedom
Freedom is the threat. Central planners are uneasy with spontaneous order, or the decentralized, peaceful process of human action that occurs when individuals follow their diverse interests in an open marketplace of trade. A preschool finds it beneficial for their students, parents, employees, and neighbors when they emphasize immersive gardening, sustainably-grown produce, and farm stand commerce. Students enjoy it, parents value the experience for their children, teachers choose to work in this farm-focused environment, and neighbors are willing to pay for the garden bounty from a twice-per-month farm stand. It is a beautiful example of the beneficial gains achieved through free markets.
That is, until the city’s central planners intervened out of fears that allowing one neighborhood farm stand to operate could lead to many, un-zoned farm stands. This is particularly poignant given that this preschool is located in one of the most disadvantaged counties in Atlanta. Little Ones preschool director Wande Okunoren-Meadows told Mother Nature Network: "According to the United Way, Clayton County has the lowest child well-being index out of all the metro Atlanta counties…So if we're trying to move the needle and figure out ways to improve well-being, I'm not saying the farm stand is the only way to do it, but Little Ones is trying to be part of the solution."
Zoning is often considered to be a protection mechanism, ensuring that neighborhoods remain orderly and livable. Yet, zoning laws in this country have a long history of racist tendencies. Granting power to government officials to control housing, commerce, and neighborhood development has previously led to unfair practices and unfavorable results. Decentralizing that power by eliminating questionable zoning practices can ensure that power is more justly distributed among the individual citizens of a particular community.
In the case of the Little Ones preschool, power would shift from city planners to local neighbors and businesses.
The city has offered Little Ones an opportunity to hold their farm stand in another part of town, but it is far away from the preschool and its neighborhood. City officials also said that Little Ones could pay $50 for a “special event” permit for each day it hosts its farm stand—a fee that is prohibitively expensive for the school and its small produce stand. For now, the school is selling its fruits and vegetables inside the building, but the indoor location is leading to far fewer sales as passersby don’t realize it’s there. The Little Ones parent and educator community is hoping that the city rules can be changed to allow for occasional outdoor farm stands.
Cases like Little Ones preschool expose the deleterious effects of zoning regulations. "It's like shutting down a kid's lemonade stand," Okunoren-Meadows says. "Nobody does this. It just shouldn't happen,” the preschool director told Mother Nature Network.
Sadly, children’s lemonade stands are also routinely shut down for similar reasons, often with the same outrage.
We should be outraged when young entrepreneurs are prohibited from producing and selling something of value to their neighbors due to restrictive regulations that centralize power and weaken neighborhood dynamism. Some states, like Utah, are passing laws to protect young entrepreneurs from these zoning and licensing challenges. The key is to look beyond preschool farm stands and advocate for more freedom for all.
Kerry McDonald is a Senior Education Fellow at FEE and author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom (Chicago Review Press, 2019). She is also an adjunct scholar at The Cato Institute and a regular Forbes contributor. Kerry has a B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College and an M.Ed. in education policy from Harvard University. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and four children. You can sign up for her weekly newsletter on parenting and education here.
That is, until the city shut down the bi-monthly farm stand program last month for zoning violations.