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'You Can't Deny Children Food': Cherry Hill School District Facing Backlash Over New Unpaid Student Lunch Debt Policies

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (CBS) -- It's a topic that upsets a lot of parents: How should schools handle students with unpaid lunch bills? The Cherry Hill School District is facing backlash for how it plans to handle the problem by cutting off meals for some students.

For many students, lunchtime can be as much as a stress as it is a break. Where to sit? What to eat? And sadly, do they have any money?

The National School Lunch Program is designed to address the money problem by supplying free and reduced lunches for those who qualify.

Yet, some school districts like Cherry Hill find themselves with tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid student lunch bills.

Two years ago, the Cherry Hill School District forgave a $25,000 lunch debt while adopting a new policy to pressure parents to pay up or if they can't, at least apply for free lunches.

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Despite sending home letters every two weeks and only allowing kids to get a tuna fish sandwich meal when they owe more than $10, the district has stopped short of enforcing their own policy of cutting off meals completely.

That's something that officials are now ready to do.

The idea isn't going over well with parents.

"Just give the kids the food, like they need to eat," Danielle Fudala said. "You can't deny children food."

The proposed lunch crackdown came up at a board meeting two weeks ago and will be discussed again by the board on Tuesday night at Carusi Middle School.

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The district denied Eyewitness News' request for an interview but brought up a recent letter for parents that outlined the reasons for possibly denying lunch.

The letter said, "Simply erasing the debt does not help those who need support and compassion and meals through the Free & Reduced Meal Programs. Simply erasing the debt does not address the many families with financial means who have just chosen not to pay what is owed."

"I think keeping the kid accountable is tough because it's not their fault their parent isn't paying their bill," parent Kristin Gauthier said.

"Maybe there's parents out there that would take charity and contribute some money for those that are unprivileged," parent Maria Bennett said.

While the Board of Education will discuss changes to the lunch policy on Tuesday, they will not make any final decisions.

When schools begin next week, any student that shows up and needs lunch will be given something to eat.

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