Uproar Over School Lunches
Lunch Shaming: Dallas ISD Offers Free Lunch, Other Districts Offer Brown Bags – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
After a full morning of science and new math, lunch is that long-awaited break to just be a kid. “‘No, no, no, you have to put this back and here’s your lunch,'” and handed him a brown paper bag with literally a frozen peanut butter sandwich in it,” said Schaefer. A paperwork issue meant he wasn’t getting his lunch; he went weeks with the brown bag meal and he suffered in silence. We asked them had they ever seen someone go get lunch and not be able to pay for it? And all their hands went up. We reached out to school districts — asking for a dollar amount for lunch accounts in the red. More than half the districts told us they had more than $100,000 in unpaid lunch bills. “In times where education dollars are so tight, a $100,000 deficit, that’s several teacher’s positions, several instructional aides or funding that could have went into the classroom for student achievement,” said Michael Rosenberger, executive director of food service for the Dallas Independent School District. Rosenberger said unpaid lunches were crippling DISD. The district applied for a federal grant that would pay them $2 per student to help pay for lunch. “There were days where she just didn’t have it. She didn’t have it. So, me and my brother would be that kid sitting there with no lunch. Because back then if you didn’t have lunch money, you did not eat,” said Nelson. The grant DISD received is only available to schools with a high percentage of low income students, so many districts simply don’t qualify. “We tried to give him the milk, what we had, and what we didn’t want. He didn’t take it. He just put his head down, turned red, and cried,” said a student about their friend who ran out of lunch money. Many parents and charities set up fundraisers and donation drives to help pay for lunches, but school districts said it really just puts a Band-Aid on the problem.
No Such Thing as a Stigma-Free Lunch
USDA is responsible for implementing the National School Lunch Program, which provides students with free- and reduced-price meals. One school district reportedly served “Sandwiches of shame,” made of just bread and cheese, to students with meal debt. In some states, it is estimated that a third of eligible students choose to skip lunch altogether rather than endure embarrassing and stigmatizing practices. Technically, federal legislation prohibits lunch provision practices that single out students. According to Linder these prohibitions only apply to students who are enrolled in the NSLP, rather than to all students eligible for enrollment or all students generally. In 2016, USDA published a policy memo calling on schools to develop and disseminate a policy for responding to student meal debt by July 2017. One study of public schools in Massachusetts concluded that a quarter of all schools in which more than 20 percent of students are economically disadvantaged did not have a policy for meal charges in place by fall 2017. With local schools possessing such extensive discretion, Linder argues that responding to unpaid meal charges can become an opportunity for schools to engage in lunch shaming. One school district has required students with meal debt to perform chores prior to receiving their meal. Lunch shaming practices are inconsistent with the National School Lunch Act, which prohibits discrimination against students, including the overt identification of those students, for receiving free- or reduced-price lunches. States can alleviate current shaming practices by adopting universal free lunch programs to provide meals to all students, not just those eligible for the federal program. Local actors may actually prefer state administration of the NSLP, as state control allows school administrators to focus their energy on other issues facing their students.
Students Sometimes Face ‘Lunch Shaming’ When They Can’t Pay
Update, May 10In response to this story:>First Christian Church in Tulsa donated $2,885 to Tulsa Public Schools, which will pay off all students’ overdue meal accounts and provide a cushion to cover unpaid charges through the end of the school year, a school district spokeswoman said. Nearly all the unpaid balances are at middle and junior high schools, because elementary students eat free and high school students aren’t allowed to charge. >The founder of a Florida-based charity, School Lunch Fairy, said that he will consider Oklahoma schools for future donations. School Lunch Fairy has raised more than $5,000 for emergency lunch funds and plans to expand to more than a dozen cities this summer. In schools across the nation, including in Oklahoma, children whose school meal accounts aren’t paid in full sometimes face embarrassment in the cafeteria line. Some school officials say lunch programs are costly to run, and unpaid meal debt is a problem they have to address. Unpaid meal debt is less of an issue at large urban school districts where most students receive free meals. All of Tulsa Public Schools’ elementary students eat free. High school students who can’t pay receive nothing. Oklahoma City Public Schools has a no charge policy, and students with a zero balance receive either an alternative meal of a sandwich and milk or a regular hot meal, a district spokeswoman said. Schools are expected to examine their lunch policies now because the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers school meal programs, has asked states to define their policies by July 1. The legislation, which was signed into law in April and is the first of its kind in the country, requires schools to give all students access to the same lunch regardless of ability to pay and prohibits schools from having students to do chores to work off debt.