NM Senator Michael Padilla & School Lunch Shaming Legislation
N.J. should outlaw absurd school lunch shaming, lawmakers say
The Assembly Education Committee on Monday approved a proposal to forbid schools from publicly identifying students for lunch debt or serving them alternative meals. Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, said he can’t believe the state really has to consider passing laws to ensure students get lunch without being shamed for their family’s debt. The proposals come as lunch debt is a growing problem both in New Jersey and nationwide. The Cherry Hill School District recently came under fire for considering serving tuna sandwiches to students with lunch debt or banning students from the prom if their debt grows too high. The district also refused to accept a donation to wipe away $14,000 in lunch debt. Lawmakers received some pushback from the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials, which argued that many families can pay for lunch and are simply choosing not to. An association study found that most lunch debts are accrued by families not in the federal reduced lunch program, said Susan Young, the association’s executive director. Rising lunch debt makes it difficult for districts to manage their programs. The proposal for banning lunch shaming would forbid districts from requiring students to sit at a separate table or wear a wristband, hand stamp or identifying mark. Schools would not be allowed to make students do chores or other work to pay for the school breakfast or lunch. A separate bill would effectively eliminate the category of reduced-price lunch by buying the meal for students who don’t qualify for free lunches under the federal program. A third key plan would require every district to start a “School Meal Fund” and accept donations to pay down the district-wide lunch debt.
Why Lunch Shaming Persists
To ensure none of her students go hungry-and none of their families are harassed over lunch debt-Wiggins utilized a USDA meal service option called the Community Eligibility Provision. For a school or district to qualify, 40 percent of students must automatically qualify for free meals as of April 1 the school year prior to CEP participation. Once a school or district opts in, all students can receive free breakfast and lunch. Created in 2010, the CEP is the newest USDA provision public schools can utilize to offer free meals to students who otherwise wouldn’t qualify. Wiggins used the program to implement free meals for all students in Houston ISD and did the same for students in Detroit Public Schools in her previous role. So even though a school or district may have a clear need, it might not have enough students enrolled in federal assistance programs to qualify. The USDA doesn’t reimburse schools for the full cost of the program; it bases payment on the percentage of students who qualify. Since the National School Lunch Program, the first permanent program of its kind, was created in 1946, the system has never served each child equally. The number of students eligible for free lunch faces its largest cut since 1981. The USDA estimates that, under the proposed policy, approximately 497,000 students now enrolled in free lunch programs would have to pay a reduced price. In October 2019, California passed a law that banned lunch shaming and required hot meals be provided to all students. The law led to more California schools adopting the CEP. Recognizing the state’s extremely high cost of living, CFPA is fighting for all students to have equitable access to school meals.
David Bollinger and his wife Jessica started their own business, Efland Trash Service, in 2006 so they could spend more time attending to their autistic son. In the years since, they say he received excellent service in school that is helping him transition into adulthood. On social media, they heard about a problem in school cafeterias: Students whose lunch accounts that went into the negatives were being ‘lunch shamed. Lunch shaming is a term that refers to kids that are being bullied for not being able to afford school lunches. “It’s not just here. It’s all over the country. People are being lunch shamed. There are constant posts on social media about kids not being able to eat,” David Bollinger said. His wife, and their daughter Makenzie checked in with the school nearest to them, Efland-Cheeks Global Elementary. The family found out that the school’s total student lunch debt was $440, and if it was paid off those students could get regular lunches again. Goins posed for a picture with the Bollinger’s and her cafeteria staff. The post got the attention of Will Atherton the chair of the Orange County School Board who is now proposing a county-wide lunch program that would feed all students at no cost to them. Will Atherton knows the additional $400,000 dollar cost may not fly with county commissioners, and that’s why he supports the challenge being made by the Bollinger’s for other businesses to help their local school. “Us being a small three-person business, if we can do it surely other businesses out there can do it,” said David Bollinger. Let us know if you can pay off the lunch debt at your local school.