By Nelson Oliveira

A Rhode Island school district is under fire after announcing that students whose families owe lunch money will be served cold sandwiches instead of hot food starting next week.

Those students will be served a "Sunbutter and jelly sandwich" until their balance has been paid in full or a payment plan has been approved, Warwick Public Schools told parents in a statement that has been widely criticized on social media this week.

Critics say the move will serve only to embarrass children whose parents struggle to afford school meals.

"There is no need for any child to be denied a hot lunch," the owners of a local business wrote Sunday on Facebook. "We never know a child's or their families situation, everyone struggles at some point."

That local business, Gel's Kitchen, offered to donate $4,000 to the district to help with the lunch debt, but officials declined the offer, the restaurant's owners said. District officials responded in a statement that they must treat students equally instead of arbitrarily selecting which debts to reduce.

The district, which is located south of Providence, has more than $27,000 in school lunch debt, according to local station WPRI.

Most comments on the district's Facebook page were critical of the new policy.

"I know as parents this is our responsibility but why take it out on kids if parents are struggling???" Facebook user Jennie Holmes wrote. "The same thing every day is not the greatest way to show children that their parents may need help financially!!!"

But some noted that while embarrassing a child is inappropriate, providing free lunch with no accountability will lead many families to take advantage of the system.

"That does create a burden to taxpayers and it creates an incentive for people to be irresponsible about their child's health and irresponsible about their obligation to pay the school for the food that's provided," Facebook user Marie Ann Hopkins wrote.

With News Wire Services

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