States Look To Outlaw ‘Lunch Shaming’ Of Kids Whose Parents Can’t Pay Cafeteria Bill

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Schools across the country deploy a variety of humiliation tactics on students whose parents haven’t been able to pay their school lunch bills, whether it’s publicly throwing away perfectly good trays of food or marking students’ hands. Some states and schools say these practices go too far and are adopting laws and policies that don’t punish schoolchildren for their parents’ debts.

In California, the state senate passed a measure in May that would prevent schools from denying students lunch when their bills reach a certain threshold. Schools would be required to notify parents or guardians of the negative account within 10 days, and work to ensure that eligible students are enrolled in free or reduced lunch programs.

Meanwhile, Texas adopted a grace period of at least two-weeks that allows students to continue eating the same meal served to others while parents negotiate their debts. During this grace period, schools must make at least three private attempts to notify parents of the insufficient funds and work out a payment plan, if needed.

The two measures comes in addition to New Mexico’s recently passed legislation that requires schools to create payment plans for parents and directs them to provide students a hot meal instead of a cold sandwich when they can’t pay for lunch.

While students could feel less shame when their lunch accounts are negative, PBS Newshour points out schools’ bottom line could suffer. In New Mexico, the Las Cruces Public Schools recently had an unpaid meal debt of $8,000.

Still, more changes could be coming to schools, PBS reports.

The Department of Agriculture gave states until July 1 to create policies on how to treat children who can’t pay for lunches. While PBS notes that the Dept. hasn’t specifically barred schools from shaming students, it is suggesting policies that encourage schools to work with parents on their debts.