Lawmakers want federal measure to end 'lunch shaming'
‘A Bigger Issue Than Some Might Think’: Texas 8th-Grader Raises $10,000 For School Lunch Debt
Ben Hofer, an eighth grader at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, crowdfunded more than $10,000 to pay off his district’s school lunch debt. When students who aren’t enrolled in a free school meal program lack the money to pay for their food, what results is an accumulating lunch debt. It’s a problem facing many schools across the country. About 75% of districts reported having unpaid student meal debt at the end of the 2016-17 school year, according to the School Nutrition Association.
In Texas, one 14-year-old boy recognized the issue in his community and crowdfunded more than $10,000 to pay off the Austin Independent School District’s debt. Hofer did some research into his own district, and while he found it didn’t engage in lunch shaming, he discovered Austin had a significant student lunch debt. It was a hurdle Hofer hadn’t thought of before, which made him feel some guilt. Hofer hopes people around the country in other school districts will take his lead and start their own fundraisers. As far as his own efforts go, he says he wants to make the fundraiser annual for the next few years.
Ashley Locke produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Tinku Ray.
Wisconsin lawmakers introduced bill to prevent “lunch shaming”
Posted: May 20, 2019 4:40 PM CDT. MADISON, Wis. – A bill introduced by lawmakers aims to prevent lunch shaming in Wisconsin schools when students aren’t able to afford their food. The issue was put in the National Spotlight after a Rhode Island school district implemented a policy to issue only cold meals to students with lunch debt in their accounts. That district has since reversed its police following the backlash. The bill from Wisconsin lawmakers would prevent school districts from dumping students’ lunches or requiring them to work if their account payments are in debt.
Districts would only be allowed to talk to parents, not students about lunch debt. Representative LaKeshia Myers of Milwaukee, a co-sponsor of the bill, says Milwaukee Public Schools have free breakfast and lunch so students don’t face the risk of lunch shaming. She says it has a big impact and hopes the rest of the state can benefit from that. The bill does not create funding for school districts to address the issue, but the authors of the bill say it does allow more flexibility for districts to raise funds from outside sources.
Minnesota lawmakers to introduce anti-lunch shaming bill for schools
We have heard the stories in Minnesota and around the country about students who are publicly outed because they have school lunch debt. Well, there may be new rules coming to schools across the country about how they can identify students who cannot afford meals. This bill would prohibit any kind of identification like tokens or wristbands, publishing a list of children with outstanding debts, or using debt collectors to obtain school meal fees. It would also require schools to attempt to certify a child with unpaid meal fees and subsequently allow that school to receive retroactive reimbursement for that child’s meals for up to 90 days. Senator Tina Smith will introduce a companion bill on Wednesday, as well.
Her late son, Philando Castile, was a cafeteria worker at J.J. Hill Montessori in St. Paul and was known to regularly pay for students meals out of his own pocket. Recently, Valerie and her organization named after her son paid off $8,000 in school lunch debt for students at Robbinsdale Cooper High School in New Hope.
District may back off ‘lunch shaming’ policy to give students cold sandwiches if they can’t pay
A Rhode Island school district will possibly back off a controversial plan where they would have served cold sandwiches instead of hot lunches to students whose families owe lunch money. Warwick Public Schools says it is owed more than $40,000 from outstanding lunch payments and cannot afford to absorb the costs. At a school board meeting on Wednesday, a subcommittee recommended that the students get their choice of lunch, regardless of account status. The school board will meet next week to further analyze the policy. Pending legislation would change state law making free hot lunches available for all students regardless of income.
The Incentives Behind Lunch Shaming
While the US Department of Agriculture narrowly applies this overt identification to students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch, in practice legal lunch shaming occurs against students whose family income exceeds free or reduced lunch eligibility thresholds. The purpose of lunch shaming is to embarrass a student and parent(s) so that a school lunch debt is paid quickly, in turn reducing a school’s financial burden.
Lunch Shaming: How western Massachusetts schools deal with unpaid lunch accounts
Students in Warwick who owed lunch money were given a sunflower seed butter and jelly, or a cheese sandwich, instead of a hot lunch option. Parents said the policy could make these children more susceptible to bullying. The Warwick district, last week, changed that policy. In Chicopee and Holyoke, all children receive free breakfast and lunch through a federal program, so no one owes money to the district.