NEWARK, NJ - The Newark Public Schools is expected to start providing halal lunch options in the 2019-2020 school year. 

The school board is scheduled to vote on awarding a contract Aug. 27 to Jamac Frozen Foods, a regional food distributor based in Jersey City. 

Board member Reginald Bledsoe championed the request to better serve the needs of Muslim students in the district. 

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“Newark has a large Islamic community,” said Bledsoe. “We are piloting the program during this time and will make adjustments as needed.”

Vegetarian meal options served in the past were not well received by students, said Bledsoe. This is the first year a board member requested halal products. 

Mount Vernon School, a West Ward elementary school serving grades Pre-K through eight, will pilot the program because of its large Muslim student population. 

Halal foods, by definition, are free of any items or ingredients that Muslims can not eat according to Islamic law outlined in the Qur’an. 

Broths or foods made with gelatin, for example, are often not consumed because it is unknown whether it came from a halal source.  Food preparers have to ensure that halal foods are kept separate and different utensils need to be used, said board member Asia Norton on Tuesday. "This will require additional training.”

Packaged meals marked halal and distributed by Jamac Frozen Foods are from brands with products certified by the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America. Preparation quality is internally managed by staff and the district will ensure that the staff is properly trained, said Bledsoe. 

Each month during this initial trial period, the district will administer and collect student feedback surveys. Halal products will eventually be offered as an option in high schools pending demand. 

A student from Bard High School Early College Newark who attended a March 19 board meeting told the board he believed the student body with dietary restrictions are being neglected.

The student, who is vegan, was disappointed by the lack of vegan, vegetarian, and halal options and pointed out that when he didn't have the opportunity to pack food he could go the entire school day without eating.

“This is what equity in education means to me, meeting kids where they are especially from their personal or social circumstances,”  Bledsoe said. “It means knocking down obstacles so that children achieve their destine educational potential."