Schools ‘Shaming’ Kids that Can’t Afford Their Lunch?
Report: Maryland Should Do More to Prevent School Lunch Shaming
Some Maryland school districts could do more to avoid shaming children whose families struggle to pay for school lunches, according to a report from Maryland Hunger Solutions. Last school year, Maryland schools served about 240,000 breakfasts and 405,000 lunches to students a day – but not all districts have written policies to prevent school meal debt while protecting children from humiliation and embarrassment, according to the report. County school district policies in the state vary significantly in content and level of protection against meal shaming, according to the report. The mother whose family qualifies for the state’s food stamp program and for free school meals wasn’t told about the change and only found out after her young daughter left classes in the afternoon hungry and with digestive issues, Wilson said. At three districts in the state, students with school meal debt aren’t allowed to take part in extracurricular activities or aren’t able to access their report cards and other student records.
Two county school districts use debt collection agencies to recover unpaid meal debt. The report analyzed policies in 21 of Maryland’s 24 local school districts. Last school year, the debt that school districts incurred for providing meals that students could not afford ranged from $3,000 to almost $100,000. Wilson said he understands the concerns from school districts about financial impacts, but some easy policy changes could avoid shaming without increased costs. Some of the best practices recommended in the report include an increased focus on making sure all eligible students are certified for free or reduced-price meals; preventing the accumulation of debt by providing meals at no cost to all students when possible or waiving the copay for students in the reduced-price category; and establishing a system to quickly respond to school meal debt as it occurs.
In 2017, the USDA required all school districts to establish a clearly communicated meal charge policy, including a mandate to distribute the policy in writing to all households at the beginning of every school year and to new students. The state has undertaken some changes to the school lunch program in recent years.
N.J. should outlaw absurd school lunch shaming, lawmakers say
The Assembly Education Committee on Monday approved a proposal to forbid schools from publicly identifying students for lunch debt or serving them alternative meals. It also signed off on a plan to allocate $4.5 million in state funding to pay for reduced-price lunches and a proposal to require schools to accept charitable donations to cover any outstanding lunch debt. Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, said he can’t believe the state really has to consider passing laws to ensure students get lunch without being shamed for their family’s debt. The proposals come as lunch debt is a growing problem both in New Jersey and nationwide. The Cherry Hill School District recently came under fire for considering serving tuna sandwiches to students with lunch debt or banning students from the prom if their debt grows too high.
The district also refused to accept a donation to wipe away $14,000 in lunch debt. Lawmakers received some pushback from the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials, which argued that many families can pay for lunch and are simply choosing not to. An association study found that most lunch debts are accrued by families not in the federal reduced lunch program, said Susan Young, the association’s executive director. Rising lunch debt makes it difficult for districts to manage their programs. The proposal for banning lunch shaming would forbid districts from requiring students to sit at a separate table or wear a wristband, hand stamp or identifying mark.
Schools would not be allowed to make students do chores or other work to pay for the school breakfast or lunch. A separate bill would effectively eliminate the category of reduced-price lunch by buying the meal for students who don’t qualify for free lunches under the federal program.
Richfield school lunch-shaming spurs new call for state fix
A Minnesota lawmaker is pledging to renew efforts to block schools from shaming kids over unpaid lunch debts after he learned this week that Richfield High School cafeteria workers took hot meals from students and threw them away. The lunches were tossed because the students owed $15 or more, but the action was quickly halted Monday when administrators became aware of the situation. His bill would make clear that when meals are given, they cannot be withdrawn. The state’s education commissioner would be granted enforcement authority in cases when students are not served meals in a respectful manner, under the proposal. The legislation is sponsored by a DFLer in the Senate, and advanced from the House floor this year.
It did not survive House-Senate conference committee deliberations. In 2017, the Stewartville school district in southern Minnesota came under fire for in-your-face, tray-scraping tactics. This spring, Valerie Castile, mother of police shooting victim Philando Castile, brought attention to the issue by covering $8,000 in school lunch debts for seniors at Robbinsdale Cooper High School in New Hope. Richfield’s statement noted that the district had more than $19,669 in unpaid lunch bills, and it added that several parents and community members had expressed interest in helping to pay them off. As of 5:15 p.m.
Wednesday, $2,725 had been raised from 19 donors.
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