Detentions rescinded in penny prank

March 3, 2008 6:05:32 PM PST
Some New Jersey middle school students who were punished for a lunchroom prank are off the hook. The school superintendent in Readington has told parents he is rescinding after-school detentions given to the 29 students, who paid for their $2.00 lunches in pennies.

Officials say the students slowed down the lunch line and disrespected cafeteria workers.

Several parents had complained the punishment was too harsh, but some thought it too lenient.

In his e-mail to parents, the superintendent said the students described their actions as a prank and that news reports inaccurately called it a protest.

The following is the full text of the letter that was sent to parents.

Dear Parents,

In the past seventy-two hours there has been a great deal of media attention focused on an event that occurred on Thursday, February 28th during lunch at Readington Middle School. Twenty-nine eighth graders paid for their lunch using pennies. This delayed the lunch line for many students who had a difficult time finishing their meal; moreover, the lunchroom workers were treated disrespectfully. As a result, the children involved were given two days of after-school detention.

We accepted the pennies (legal tender) as payment for their lunches, and asked many of the students to roll their pennies to speed the movement at the cashier's line. When the children were asked why they purchased their lunch with pennies, they informed the administration that it was a prank. The media has reported that the event was a protest. This perception was different from the way children initially characterized the event. If we had knowledge of a protest, we would have reinforced with the students the importance of not being disrespectful and would have begun discussions about the issue.

We are concerned about the widespread focus and attention paid to this event. The school community has been through a difficult period, and we need to move forward. We contacted the parents of each child involved in the event. In our conversations, we discussed how the incident has been blown out of proportion and how it has affected our children and our school community. Given the unique nature of this situation, we also discussed our willingness to work with families to determine the next steps to take with their child. Parents had differing points of view which we sincerely respected. Some parents informed us that they would like their child to serve the detention while others differed and worked with administrators to plan experiences to replace the detention. Still others have discussed the matter with their child at home and decided the detention is not necessary. We were very pleased that many of our students have already apologized to the lunchroom staff and clearly recognize the difference between a prank and a protest.

We are very fortunate to have a school system with wonderful kids, engaged parents, and dedicated staff, teachers, and administrators. The students' smiles and laughter brighten each and every day. When the news vans leave our town to find another story, the staff of the Readington Township Public School System will continue to do our very best to work with you and your children to make their learning experience the best that it can be.


Jorden Schiff, Superintendent Catherine Hollinger, Principal, RMS