Cumberland Schools dumping ‘cheese sandwich’ cafeteria policy

CUMBERLAND, R.I. (WPRI) — Cumberland is following Westerly’s lead and will no longer give students a cheese sandwich if their cafeteria bills aren’t paid up. Instead, students will still get the normal meal being served that day.

The Cumberland school district approved a policy change last week to eliminate the practice of giving students an alternative meal – which is often a cheese sandwich. Like the Westerly School District, which is in the process of revising its policy after a student petitioned to change it, Cumberland is ‘taking the child out of the equation.’ Kids won’t be given notes stating the balance that’s owed. Instead, emails and letters will be sent and phone calls will be made to the child’s parents. If nothing changes, then a collection agency would get involved.

“I think it’s great legislation to make sure that the children get the nutritious lunches that they need and aren’t faulted for economic issues that might be going on with their family or their parents,” said parent Karie Leduck.

Supporters say it gets rid of what’s called “lunch shaming” – singling out a child who’s lunch is noticeably different than the others being served.

“It’s important that they’re able to feel like they’re treated like everybody else, they’re able to have the same meal options that other students are able to have,” said parent Kevin Kerbec.

Two members of the Cumberland School Committee voted against the policy change – Paul DiModica, and chairman Ray Salvatore.

Salvatore said he felt the policy didn’t go far enough.

“I want the child to have a totally free lunch, which includes the meal and a snack,” Salvatore said. “As of right now, it does not include the snack. If the child does go up and get the snake, they will be denied the snack which could be possible shaming or bullying of that child from their student population.”

DiMondica said he supports the not shaming the child, but he’s “against sending the parents to collections where the school district will pay a fee to the collection agency.

‘Food shaming’

Students and others have been raising the issue of policies like this in many other U.S. cities saying it amounts to so-called “food shaming.” The student who gets in line for a taco or pizza, but gets handed a slice of American cheese between two slices of white bread, immediately stands out among peers, making them an easy target for kidding or bullying.

“It makes them seem ‘lesser’ to other people, by giving them something that is perceived as lower quality,” said Blake Harrison earlier this week. The Westerly 11th-grader started a petition last April to get the policy dumped.

Some Cumberland parents said Thursday they were in favor of the removal of the policy — agreeing that children shouldn’t have to pay a price for mistakes their parents make or feel the effects of potential family economic shortfalls in school.