automatic News for 06-01-2019

Jeffery Lew Aims To End Lunch Shaming

Kids with School Lunch Debt Still Face Lunch-Shaming, Despite Outrage

When New Mexico passed the first comprehensive law banning lunch shaming last April, the state made visible what anti-hunger advocates, school food professionals, and lower-income families have known for decades: Children with school-meal debt can be stigmatized in the cafeteria. If social media is any guide, the idea of singling out kids with unpaid balances-by making them do chores, denying them a meal, serving them a cold cheese sandwich, or stamping their arms or hands-has been met with almost universal disapproval. A recent survey of 50 large districts by the Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger advocacy group, showed no significant sea change, even though districts were required for the first time to put their meal debt policies in writing by July 1. Of the 40 districts surveyed that have written policies in place, only 13 have a policy requiring schools to serve school meals to all children regardless of ability to pay. The remaining 27 districts take a variety of approaches to meal debt, with 10 denying meals to high school students as soon as they have an outstanding balance-and some of those to middle school students as well. 17 districts reported placing a cap on the number of regular meals served before a meal is denied, with some imposing the cap only on older children and taking a more lenient stance with those in elementary school. 

The FRAC survey also found that when districts do provide meals to students who can’t pay, in many cases it’s still a cold, alternate meal such as a peanut butter sandwich. Said Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which conducted similar meal debt policy research to support anti-shaming legislation in California. 

Keywords: [“meal”,”districts”,”school”]

School districts address lunch shaming

Bethany Staples’ son was going through the lunch line at Auburn High School, near Seattle, a few years ago. The practice is common enough that it’s got a name – lunch shaming – when parents have unpaid bills but the kids pay the price. This school year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is requiring all districts to have policies in place, making it clear to parents how schools will respond in those situations. About three-quarters of school districts surveyed by the School Nutrition Association had unpaid school meal debt at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. 

At Brooklyn Park Middle School, outside Baltimore, parents get a robocall every night warning them if they have a negative balance. Kids get to charge up to five hot meals before food service manager Rose Bennett pulls them aside. The new policies vary by district, said Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association. Most schools allow children to charge some meals or provide an alternate meal, like a cheese or peanut butter sandwich, she said. Schools do that partly by making sure every child who qualifies for free and reduced-price lunch through the federal government is signed up. 

More than half of high-poverty schools are now avoiding the problem altogether by serving all their kids free meals through a provision of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Staples, whose son’s lunch was thrown away in Auburn, Washington, qualified for free lunch at the time, but hadn’t realized she needed to reapply. To help avoid embarrassment, this year her district is reversing the lunch lines in its elementary schools so that kids see the cashier first and know what kind of meal they get before they go through the line. 

Keywords: [“School”,”meal”,”lunch”]

Casey, Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Prohibit School ‘Lunch Shaming’

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey joined his colleagues Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich in introducing a bipartisan bill to prohibit schools from discriminating against or stigmatizing children who have outstanding credit or don’t have enough money to pay for meals at school. U.S. Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham led the House companion bill along with U.S. Representatives. 

The legislation, the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act, would ban schools from singling out children – such as by requiring them to wear wristbands or hand stamps or do extra chores – because their parents have not paid their school meal bills. In an effort to decrease school meal debt, some schools require cafeteria workers to take these steps and others – in some cases even throwing the child’s meal away – rather than extending credit for meals. The Anti-Lunch Shaming Act prohibits these tactics by requiring schools to direct communications regarding meal debt to the parent, not the child. The bill also aims to make the process for applying for free and reduced price lunch applications simpler by expressing that it is the sense of Congress that schools should provide these applications more effectively to the families who need them, coordinate with other programs to ensure that homeless and foster children are enrolled for free meals, and set up online systems to make paying for meals easier for parents when possible. Lunch shaming is a practice used in schools across the country, but New Mexico recently took strong steps to outlaw the practice. 

New Mexico’s Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights is the first such state law in the nation. 

Keywords: [“school”,”shamed”,”meal”]

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