Food Fight: Kansas City metro schools have different opinions on school lunch rules
‘Lunch Shaming’ Still on School Menus, Even After Proposed Law
A closer reading of the federal Anti-Lunch Shaming Act reveals that by far the most common form of lunch shaming-giving a child an alternate meal, usually a cold cheese sandwich-would not be prohibited if the law were enacted. Nor would the law ban the outright denial of a meal to a debt-ridden child. Lunch shaming has become a topic of national conversation following two recent New York Times stories about the practice, which in turn led to significant and ongoing coverage of the phenomenon by other local and national media outlets. The federal bill was introduced in the Senate yesterday by New Mexico Senator Tom Udall and two Democratic co-sponsors, Martin Heinrich, and Bob Casey. The Anti-Lunch Shaming Act was modeled on New Mexico’s recently enacted Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act, the first comprehensive state effort to address lunch shaming.
While the New Mexico law expressly requires that all children receive a reimbursable school meal, regardless of meal debt, the federal bill does not. Instead, the federal law would ban four specified and notably stigmatizing practices: requiring a debt-ridden child to wear a wrist band, stamping the child’s hand or arm, requiring the child to do chores, and taking away a child’s hot meal after it has been served. The federal bill also follows New Mexico’s lead by requiring that any communications regarding meal debt be directed only to a child’s parent or guardian. These provisions include the requirements that: all children receive a reimbursable meal; no alternative meals be served; applications for free and reduced price lunch be made available and accessible to parents; districts coordinate with their local liaison for homeless students; and foster children be automatically enrolled for federal meal benefits. Both the New Mexico state law and the new federal effort were spearheaded by New Mexico Appleseed, an anti-poverty non-profit.
The organization’s executive director, Jennifer Ramo, praised the federal bill despite its narrower scope. Whether the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act will gain traction in Congress remains to be seen.
‘Lunch Shaming’ Scrutiny Leads to Legislative Changes
75 percent of U.S. schools have students with unpaid lunch debt. Some of these tactics commonly include forcing students to wash tables at lunch in front of their peers, throwing away a student’s lunch if they don’t have the money to pay for it, or marking their bodies with some sort of stamp to remind parents that they owe lunch money. The U.S. Agriculture Department will encourage public schools to implement new guidelines and to notify parents of the changes at the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
Although the agency is not specifically prohibiting distressing tactics, it is urging teachers and lunch workers to address the debt directly with the parent without getting the child involved. According to KATU, 75 percent of U.S. schools have students with unpaid lunch debt. A 2014 federal report also found that 39 percent of school districts nationwide distribute inexpensive alternative meals which are not required to have any nutritional value standard. Thresa Thomas, a special needs teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, says she grinds up cheese sandwiches in a food processor to serve through a feeding to some of her students with disabilities who have unpaid lunch bills.
Most school districts try to keep meal costs down to approximately $3.20 which is the average reimbursement rate for free lunches. The Agriculture Department’s National School Lunch Program allows children to eat for free if a family of four earns less than $32,000 a year, or they receive discounted lunch if the family is earning under $45,000. Experts on poverty and nutrition say it is the families that have incomes slightly higher than $45,000 that are more likely to struggle since they receive no federal funds for school lunches. Some states have decided enough is enough, adopting its own policies which outlaw lunch shaming. On Monday, the Oregon State Senate unanimously approved House Bill 3454 which would require schools to provide lunches to all students, regardless of their debt.
Massachusetts bills would make ‘meal shaming’ in public schools illegal – ThinkProgress
The bills, filed by state Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Andres Vargas, would make it illegal for any school personnel or volunteer to publicly identify a student who was unable to pay for a meal, or to dispose of an already served meal due to a student’s inability to pay. The legislation also prohibits schools from withholding extracurricular activities or report cards from students who are unable to pay for meals, or from requiring parents or guardians to pay fees in excess of the actual amount owed for school lunches. The joint education committee will take up the bills on Tuesday.
School districts across the country often resort to extreme, humiliating measures to reduce school lunch debt. Some students are refused a hot meal, and given a cold cheese sandwich instead. Others have their hands stamped or are forced to wear wristbands to indicate they were unable to pay for a hot lunch. A recent report from the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute found many of these same practices are common across the state: throwing away a hot meal and giving a student a cheese sandwich if they’ve exceeded their meal cap; punishing students and sometimes their siblings for meal debt; authorizing the use of collection agencies to recover meal debt. The newly introduced bills follow a handful of other states that have recently passed legislation to make sure children are fed and not punished for their inability to pay for a hot lunch.
Last year, New Mexico became the first state in the country to outlaw lunch shaming. State Sen. Michael Padilla said his experience growing up in multiple foster homes, and being forced to do chores in the school cafeteria to earn his lunch, drove him to introduce the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights. Texas passed its own legislation last year, despite the objections of a group of far-right legislators. Legislation passed in California, Oregon, and Washington state similarly prohibits school districts from withholding food or giving children a smaller meal if they are unable to pay.