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‘Lunch Shaming’ Scrutiny Leads to Legislative Changes

Forcing students to wash tables or sending them home with a stamp on their hand that says “Lunch Money” are a few common practices used to try and force parents to pay lunch debts.

‘Lunch Shaming’ Scrutiny Leads to Legislative Changes

75 percent of U.S. schools have students with unpaid lunch debt.

An abundance of unorthodox methods of humiliating children so that parents will pay their school lunch bill, often referred to as “lunch shaming”, have been seen in schools across the country.

Some of these tactics commonly include forcing students to wash tables at lunch in front of their peers, throwing away a student’s lunch if they don’t have the money to pay for it, or marking their bodies with some sort of stamp to remind parents that they owe lunch money.

Many public schools have come under fire for these mishandlings, which has led to the intervention of The U.S. Agriculture Department, reports The Independent.

The U.S. Agriculture Department will encourage public schools to implement new guidelines and to notify parents of the changes at the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

Although the agency is not specifically prohibiting distressing tactics, it is urging teachers and lunch workers to address the debt directly with the parent without getting the child involved.

“Rather than a hand stamp on a kid to say, ‘I need lunch money,’ send an email or a text message to the parent,” said Tina Namian, who oversees the federal agency’s school meals policy division.

Lunch Shaming Statistics

According to KATU, 75 percent of U.S. schools have students with unpaid lunch debt.

A 2014 federal report also found that 39 percent of school districts nationwide distribute inexpensive alternative meals which are not required to have any nutritional value standard. The same report also found that 6 percent of schools refuse to serve students with no money.

Thresa Thomas, a special needs teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, says she grinds up cheese sandwiches in a food processor to serve through a feeding to some of her students with disabilities who have unpaid lunch bills.

“They’re not able to complain too much,” said Thomas. “We should give them all the same food, and we should collect the money as much as possible.”

Most school districts try to keep meal costs down to approximately $3.20 which is the average reimbursement rate for free lunches.

The Agriculture Department’s National School Lunch Program allows children to eat for free if a family of four earns less than $32,000 a year, or they receive discounted lunch if the family is earning under $45,000.

Experts on poverty and nutrition say it is the families that have incomes slightly higher than $45,000 that are more likely to struggle since they receive no federal funds for school lunches.

Policy Changes

Some states have decided enough is enough, adopting its own policies which outlaw lunch shaming.

In April, New Mexico Governor Susan Martinez signed the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights, which forces schools to work directly with parents regarding lunch debts or sign up for federal meal assistance. The bill applies to all public and private schools that receive federal subsidies for students’ meals.

On Monday, the Oregon State Senate unanimously approved House Bill 3454 which would require schools to provide lunches to all students, regardless of their debt.

It would also prohibit schools from giving students an alternative meal that is less nutritious.

The bill is currently in the hands of Governor Kate Brown.

About the Author

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Amy Brennan is the Campus Safety Web Editor. She graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and a minor in Education.

She has worked in the publishing industry since 2011, in both events and digital marketing.

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