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Rhode Island School District Reverses Policy Labeled As Lunch Shaming

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  • A Rhode Island school district faced accusations of lunch shaming after it announced that students with unpaid lunch bills would only be served sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • The outrage increased when parents learned that the district had also refused a $4,000 donation from a local community member to help with the debt, over concerns of how to fairly distribute the funds.
  • The district later reversed the policy and said it will work with its legal team to ensure that donations are accepted and applied in an equitable manner.

New Policy Announced

A Rhode Island School District has reversed its policy of only serving students with lunch debt sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches after it was slammed with accusations of lunch shaming.

Warwick Public Schools announced original policy change on their Facebook page Sunday, saying: “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 through the food service office.

The post was met with a ton of backlash from angry parents calling the policy  “terrible” and “shameful.” In some responses, parents said they had been mailed letters notifying them of unpaid balances of just a few cents.

One parent wrote, “Just give the kids lunch. We already lost a janitor, science teacher, dont have air conditioning, we cant spring for a chicken patty for a hungry kid? What if this is their only meal of the day?”

Some commenters blamed the parents for not better managing their expenses. Meanwhile, others tried to understand the school’s position. “We need to look at both sides of this!” another user wrote.

“While it is inappropriate to embarrass a child over their parent’s failings — there’s also the argument that if we provide free lunches with no accountability, many parents will purposely choose not to bother paying at all.”

Rhode Island school are required to provide lunches to students under state law and those meals must also meet minimum federal nutrition standards. Low-income families can qualify for free or discounted lunches for their children. According to the state Department of Education, about 69 percent of school lunches are already served at a free or reduced price.

Donations Refused

The debate over the new school policy got escalated once parents learned that the school had also turned down a large donation from a community member.

According to CNN, West Warwick business owner Angelica Penta tried to make a $4,000 donation to Warwick Public Schools to help pay off lunch debts. However, Penta says her donation was refused.

Penta set up donation jars at her two area diners in March of last year and has already raised over $12,000.

“I gave $4000 to West Warwick Schools on January 8th, and then I tried to give additional money to Warwick Schools, but they denied the check,” Penta told CNN.

Jars that Penta set up to raise funds for student lunch debt. Source: CNN

Penta spoke to the Director of Finances for Warwick Public schools to ask why the donation was turned down. She said she was told that the school was concerned about parents being upset that their balance was paid and concerned about how to distribute the donation.

The district has since defended itself against criticism for refusing the funds. “The business owner has maintained a position that they want to make a single, large donation to the district while leaving the student selection process to the school department,” Warwick Public Schools told WPRI in a statement.

“This is a position that the school department cannot support given the school’s mission to treat all children equitably.”

Policy Reversed

By Wednesday the school posted a follow-up message on Facebook, addressing the backlash that had accrued over the week. In it, they said that 1653 Warwick students have a balance on their lunch accounts as of Friday, May 3. The balances rage from anywhere between $10 to over $500. In total, the district says the outstanding lunch debt currently sits at $77,000.

The district explained that the majority of the lunch debt comes from paying students, not students who are enrolled in the free/reduced lunch program. All students are able to purchase lunches or à la carte items and charge them to their account, even if the accounts have no money in them. However, if debts are not paid after repeated notices to guardians, then students are given the sandwich option.

“Please understand that no students are left without a meal under our current policy,” the district wrote. “Once the student’s access to à la carte items has been shut off, students are provided with a balanced lunch of a sunbutter and jelly sandwich (which is also a daily choice on the school lunch menu), vegetables, fruit, and milk.”

“However, after careful review and consideration the policy subcommittee is recommending that the Warwick School Committee allow the students their choice of lunch regardless of their account status.”

The school added that it is grateful for donations and will “work with our attorneys to ensure that we accept donations in compliance with the law and that the donations are applied in an equitable manner.”

Lunch Shaming

“Lunch shaming” is a term used to describe efforts to hold parents accountable for their schoolchildren’s unpaid lunch bills that may spark embarrassment or bullying. It’s a huge problem in public schools across the country.

“This is bigger than Warwick,” Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association told the New York Times. “Public schools across the country are really struggling with this issue.”

There is much debate over how to deal with managing this debt, while also not singling out students or parents with unpaid bills.

In this particular instance, some parents feel that the sunbutter and jelly sandwiches would have served as a marker for lunch debt and enabled bullying.

A 2014 report by the Department of Agriculture found that about 45 percent of school districts withheld a hot meal and instead provided a cold sandwich to such students. But the practice of swapping a hot meal for a cold sandwich is just one of the measures that schools often take to deal with the issue.

In other cases nationwide, lunch shaming practices have included making students wear a sticker, stamp, or wristband to alert their parents of lunch debt.

Schools across the nation have taken steps to avoid lunch shaming, with laws passed in Washington State, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Oregon. Meanwhile, other schools have relied on private donations.

See what others are saying (CNN) (New York Times) (USA Today)


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Billionaire Pledges to Pay Loan Debt of This Year’s Morehouse College Graduates

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  • Billionaire investor Robert F. Smith promised to pay off the student loan debt of the 2019 graduates at Morehouse College, an all-male historically black school in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Though the exact amount of the class’ debt is still being calculated, the gift is expected to be around $40 million.
  • This is just one of Smith’s major donations in recent years.

A Generous Gift

Billionaire tech investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith said he will pay off the student debt for all graduates in Morehouse College’s class of 2019.

Smith announced the news on Sunday while delivering the commencement address at the all-male historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia.

“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus,” he said. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

His announcement shocked the nearly 400 graduates, who reacted with cheers and applause.

One graduating student named Aaron Mitchom told the Associated Press that he had drawn up a spreadsheet to calculate how long it would take him to pay off his $200,000 in student debt. According to his math, it would take him about 25 years.

“I can delete that spreadsheet,” he told the AP after the commencement. “I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off.”

Brandon Manor, another graduate, told the New York Times, “Now all of a sudden, I can look at schools I might not have considered, because I am not applying with about $100,000 in undergraduate loans.”

Who is Robert F. Smith?

Smith, the founder and CEO of the private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, is worth an estimated $5 billion and is the richest black man in America, according to Forbes.

The 56-year-old who originally hails from Colorado but now lives in Austin went to Cornell for his undergraduate degree and earned a B.S. in chemical engineering. Afterward, Smith earned his MBA from Columbia Business School.

He went on to work for several companies like Kraft General Foods and then Goldman Sachs, advising companies like Apple and Microsoft before founding his own investment firm.

What does this gift mean?

Smith’s pledge stunned administrators, who called it the largest single gift in the school’s history. The donation also comes at a time where student loan debt has soared to roughly $1.5 trillion, according to recent Federal Reserve data.

Morehouse President David A. Thomas called the gesture “a liberation gift,” telling CNN, “When you have to service debt, the choices about what you can go do in the world are constrained.”

“(Smith’s gift) gives them the liberty to follow their dreams, their passions.”

According to Thomas, the total amount of student debt for the class is still being calculated but the Associated Press estimated that the gift is worth about $40 million.

In return, Smith says he expects the graduating class to pay it forward to give future classes the same opportunity one day.

“Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community,” he said.

“We are enough to ensure we have all of the opportunities of the American dream, and we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds.”

Other Major Donations

The billionaire tech executive has managed to stay under the radar for much of his career. While this major donation has thrust him into the spotlight, it is far from his first generous gift.

In 2016, he pledged a $20 million gift to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. That same year, he donated $50 million to Cornell University to go towards its chemical and biomolecular engineering school, and to support black and female engineering students.

In 2017, Smith signed The Giving Pledge, a commitment by some of the world’s richest people – including Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet – who have promises to giving most of their wealth to philanthropy. In 2018, he gave $2.5 million to the Prostate Cancer Foundation to focus on research and care for African-American men and veterans with prostate cancer.

Before Sunday’s graduation speech, Smith had already donated $1.5 million to Morehouse for scholarships and a new park.

See what others are saying (The New York  Times) (Forbes) (Time)


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Aliens Among Us?! This Is Why SCIENTISTS Think It’s Actually Possible…

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Is it possible we’ve been visited by intelligent alien life? News outlets have often disregarded this question as ludicrous. However, that attitude may be changing.

In this video, we’ll look at why several well-respected scientists from places like NASA and Harvard believe it’s possible we may have already been visited by an intelligent alien life form.

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How the Flint Water Crisis EXPOSED a HUGE Problem in America’s Schools…

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The water crisis in Flint, Michigan served as a wakeup call about the dangers of lead poisoning for young children, but a recent report shows that schools across the nation are still failing to provide safe drinking water for millions of students, potentially exposing them to a lifetime of developmental delays and other severe health consequences.

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