Lunch Shaming: Why humiliate a child because a parent made a mistake?
NM bans ‘lunch shaming’ with Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights » Albuquerque Journal
Lunch shaming involves denying children school meals or otherwise embarrassing them in front of their peers as a debt collection tool to pressure their parents to pay the lunch bills. The practice uses the children as pawns in an attempt to collect money from their parents. This new law and the practice of lunch shaming made international news in outlets such as CNN, NBC, BBC, Fox News and Le Monde because few could believe that an adult would do this to a child or that a law was required to address something so common sense. The Hunger Free Students’ Bill of Rights, spearheaded by the nonpartisan, nonprofit policy organization New Mexico Appleseed, sponsored by Sens. The bill states that schools must extend credit to a family so that the child can still eat, even if the parents need more time to pay or simply forgot, as busy parents may do.
This law does not require districts to serve free meals to children ineligible for free meals. Prohibits districts from denying children meals or otherwise embarrassing them to collect the debts accrued by the charge policy. The children whose parents refuse to pay may be the most vulnerable of all. This bill ensures that school counselors are checking in on those children to check if the nonpayment is an indicator of something more troubling. Much of the debt schools accrue may be children who are eligible, but were either not enrolled or were accruing debt between the time they applied and the time they enrolled.
Districts can use the date the child applied to begin free meals, versus the date they are approved. Districts are now required to enroll children they know to be eligible who have not or don’t have to fill out applications, including homeless children and children in a household with other eligible children.
The war on lunch shaming: Policymakers work to protect kids from stigma
When Jennifer Ramo became executive director of the legal nonprofit New Mexico Appleseed in 2009, the Albuquerque Public Schools were making national news for serving cold cheese sandwiches instead of hot meals to kids whose parents were behind on their lunch tab. Now, after passing the first anti-lunch-shaming law in the country, the state is a national model for school lunch policy. Many students began to rack up lunch debt and were confronted in egregious ways. After public outcry and efforts by advocates and legislators, a number of states are waging a war against lunch shaming, rethinking mealtime policies for low-income students. Legislatures across the country, along with the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, which administers the National School Lunch Program, are taking a stand to implement safeguards to protect needy students from lunch shaming. In September, New York City officials announced that all 1.1 million public school students will receive a free daily lunch. Among other states, Texas and California have passed laws sparked by lunch shaming. According to the USDA, more than 20,000 schools have expanded free food offerings for breakfast and lunch, including ones in New York City, Chicago and Detroit. Squeezed budgets nonetheless put pressure on schools to collect lunch money.
About three-quarters of school districts have unpaid school lunch debt, and it’s trending upward. A recent report by the School Nutrition Association says 76.3 percent of school districts had unpaid meal debt at the end of the 2014-15 school year-up from 70.8 percent in 2012-13. Many schools still can chase the debt by withholding transcripts and serving alternative meals for students who aren’t paid up.
“Lunch shaming” prohibited in Washington, but local districts accruing meal debt
Tacoma Public Schools is facing more than $77,000 in meal debt charges. Notify parents of a negative balance on the student’s school meal account within 10 days of earning the charge. Those lunch cards wouldn’t have enough money to cover the meal. Before the bill was enacted, elementary and middle school students with a negative balance of $10 were told to set their tray aside and given an emergency meal consisting of a sandwich and milk. If a student’s meal card shows a negative balance, the charge is recorded, but students can carry on with their meals with no interruptions.
At the high school level, there used to be no caps at all – meaning if students didn’t have money to pay, they wouldn’t get a meal. Now, high schools are seeing the highest increase in meal debt as students have started eating but not necessarily paying. Families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free school meals, while families between 130 and 185 percent of poverty are eligible for the reduced price meals program, according to the National School Lunch Program. A search for solutions Increasing meal debt isn’t just a state trend – it’s a national trend, according to the School Nutrition Association. About 75 percent of districts across the nation reported having unpaid student meal debt at the end of the 2016-17 school year, while 40.2 percent report that the number of students without adequate funds increased last school year, according to a 2018 School Nutrition Operations Report.
Local districts are now turning to legislators to address their growing meal debts. The model requests input from parents on what the district should do if their student forgets lunch at home or otherwise cannot pay for a meal.