KISD's response to 'Lunch Shaming'
School Lunch Shaming on Congress Plate for Child Nutrition Bill
‘Shouldn’t Be Happening’ The issue has taken on a higher profile in recent years as school districts, already strapped for cash, have seen unpaid balances rise, leaving them with a choice between pushing harder to get paid or cut spending elsewhere. New Mexico and Virginia passed bills prohibiting schools from shaming students who have fallen behind on their lunch debt. Roberts’s Democratic counterpart on the committee, ranking member Sen. Debbie Stabenow, said lunch shaming merited legislative attention. ‘Honest Forgetfulness’ Schools participating in the National School Lunch Program, administered through the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, provide meals subsidized by the federal government. Students who forget their lunch money or can’t afford it have the meals charged to their account and if it isn’t paid back by the end of the school year, it falls on the school districts to offset the costs.
The National School Lunch Program allots no money to make up the debt. Seventy-five percent of school districts across the country reported unpaid school meal debt, according to a 2018 SNA survey of more than 1,200 districts. Tactics used most often include online payments, school staff notifying parents directly, and offering assistance to families for completing the free and reduced price meal forms, according to the 2018 SNA survey. Food Versus Debt While well-intentioned, the anti-shaming bills could actually make the unpaid debt problem worse for school districts, according to one school lunch administrator. Legislation that would make it so children could receive meals even if they forgot their money or have debt could only increase the debt and deter families from paying for lunch, according to Jodi Risse, supervisor of Food and Nutrition Service at Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland.
Anne Arundel has 84,000 students with $25,000 in total school meal debt. Whited said her son, who was in sixth grade at the time of the incident with her daughter, now skips lunch altogether if he forgets his lunch money.
Bethlehem school district taking drastic measure to recoup student meal debts after state bans ‘lunch-shaming’
Bethlehem school district taking drastic measure to recoup student meal debts after state bans ‘lunch-shaming’ – The Morning CallBethlehem school district taking drastic measure to recoup student meal debts after state bans ‘lunch-shaming’. Since the law was passed, meal debt in Lehigh Valley school districts has jumped, particularly in the Bethlehem Area School District. District officials say they have tried everything to recoup the money – sending weekly notices to parents after five unpaid meals; providing information on how to apply for free and reduced lunch; even setting up reimbursement plans where families can pay as little as $5 a week. As a last resort, the district has contracted with a collections agency to contact the 600 or so households that have a lunch debt of $50 or more. Almost 20 percent of students in the Salisbury School District have an unpaid lunch balance, leaving the district with $4,523 in meal debt.
Lunch debt isn’t an issue in the Allentown School District, where all students receive free and reduced lunches because of the district’s high poverty rate. Easton Area’s lunch debt was $70,198 before the school district wrote it off this summer. A survey released this month by the national School Nutrition Association found that 75 percent of school districts racked up unpaid meal debt at the end of the 2016-17 school year. School board President Michael Faccinetto agrees the district needs to do something to collect the debt, but said he’s concerned about working families that struggle financially yet don’t meet the threshold for free and reduced lunch. The bottom line, district officials say, is that families need to let the school know they’re struggling financially.
A group of district residents, including School Director Ziad Munson, launched an online fundraiser to cover the unpaid meals. At a school board meeting this month, Bethlehem Area director Eugene McKeon suggested that the district also consider not allowing students with debt to participate in graduation ceremonies.
How to stop school lunch shaming? Leave kids out of it
Far too often in school cafeterias across the country, a student is served a lunch, only for it to be thrown away because he or she does not have money in the lunch account or in hand to pay for the meal. School meal debt is a challenge for most school districts, and policies for how school districts deal with this issue vary significantly. New Mexico recently passed a law that requires communication about school meal debt to be directed only to parents and guardians and not children. The School Nutrition Association has reported that 76 percent of school districts across the country have some outstanding student debt. Federal rules require charges that cannot be collected from families to be written off as bad debt that must be covered by funds outside of the school nutrition programs.
Concerns about tight budgets often come into conflict with a school nutrition department’s mandate to feed children, with many school districts struggling to find a balance. Many school nutrition directors have long asked for direction on how to handle these situations. They would end the practices of marking – or otherwise identifying – students who owe school lunch debt, of requiring them to do chores, or taking food away once it has been served. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is requiring school districts to establish a policy by July 1 for the 2017-2018 school year for how to handle situations when students do not have money to pay for their meal.
States can set a policy for all school districts to follow, or set guidelines that local policies must meet. Though USDA has not prescribed what school districts can and cannot do, this is an important opportunity for states, school administrators, advocates and other stakeholders to establish policies that protect children and prevent stigma in the cafeteria. While many schools struggle with how to cover the cost of unpaid meal fees, ultimately, policies that stigmatize children do not serve the school district or its students.