It’s a real shame about school lunch
School lunch shouldn’t be a topic of controversy somehow, it is – and this isn’t about the taste of the food. For one thing, the Trump administration has proposed a change in the rules governing who qualifies for food stamps through the program known as SNAP, and critics say they fear this could hurt millions of people, including children who qualify for free lunch at school because their family is low-income. The Trump administration determined that more than 500,000 children would no longer be automatically eligible for free school meals under a proposed overhaul to the food stamp program, but left that figure out of its formal proposal, according to House Democrats. Then there is the continuing problem of something called “Lunch shaming,” a particularly disturbing practice by some school districts, which take action against students whose parents don’t pay their lunch bills. A 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that in the 2011-12 school year, nearly half of all school districts allowed lunch shaming in one form or another to try to push parents to pay their children’s lunch bills. In some places, adults in school buildings have given children a snack or nothing at all in place of lunch until the payments are made. Policymakers at the federal, state and school district level are finding new ways to force impoverished parents to pay for their children’s meals even if doing so means penalizing the children. One of the worst offenders is Wyoming Valley West School District in Pennsylvania. School administrators were so incensed that these kids parents didn’t pay, they resorted to fear and intimidation to get the money owed. “Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch. This is a failure to provide your child with proper nutrition and you can be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child’s right to food. If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care.” The old measure allowed schools to provide “Alternative meals” to children with $25 or more in unpaid lunch bills. The new measure inserted into the school code allows alternative meals for students who owe $50 or more.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California’s governor has signed into law a bill that guarantees all students a state-funded meal of their choice, even if their parent or guardian has unpaid meal fees. The measure bans the practice of “Lunch shaming,” in which students who owe the school money for meals are denied food or given a cheaper alternative meal. Under the new law, a school can no longer give a student a cheaper alternative meal. In a statement Saturday, Gov. Gavin Newsom thanked Ryan Kyote, a third-grader at an elementary school in Napa County who brought national attention to the practice earlier this year by paying for all the food service bills of his fellow students at the school. “I want to thank Ryan for his empathy and his courage in bringing awareness to this important issue,” Newsom said.” The 10-year-old brought national attention to the issue when he used his allowance to pay all the food service bills of his fellow students. “I saw this girl was in line and then she was going to get lunch and she got her lunch and they said, ‘You have to give it back,'” he said. “And then she was sad, so she went to the bathroom and then kids starting laughing at her so she went and started crying.” Ryan worked with the governor on legislation to end “Lunch shaming.” The third-grader calls it an “Amazing” experience and has this message for Newsom. “It was great to meet you and thank you and I hope I can meet you again,” he said. His mom, Kylie Kirkpatrick, added, “We’ve been up, well I have been celebrating with everybody, everybody who’s worked so hard to get this passed. So one state down, 49 to go and then we go federal.”
It’s time to outlaw lunch shaming
It’s a practice so cruel, you probably never imagined it would happen. In nearly half of all US school districts, school officials are allowed to punish students – even withhold lunch – because a parent or guardian has fallen behind on paying their child’s school meal bill. The practice, known as “Lunch shaming,” publicly singles out these kids by forcing them to wear wristbands, assigning them chores, and even making a display of taking away a meal from them after it has been served. As kids across the country head back to school this month, we should ensure they are focused on the new friends, classes, and challenges that come with a new school year – but one of those challenges should not be dealing with humiliation at lunchtime. That’s why I’m taking steps to stop lunch shaming across the country. Instead of serving a practical purpose, lunch shaming is detrimental to students’ wellbeing; it singles out students whose parents are unable to pay, stigmatizing the most vulnerable kids. Extra school chores take students away from schoolwork and classmates. Worst of all, the practice can stand in the way of a child’s only healthy meal of the day. We can’t expect our kids to succeed in the classroom under those circumstances – not when they’re hungry and face public embarrassment at the hands of school officials. I am proud that my home state of New Mexico became the first in the country to outlaw this practice. New Mexico’s Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights was drafted by a bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers and champions for our kids, including one state senator who was a victim of lunch shaming himself; while growing up in foster care, he often was forced to work for his school meal.