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2018-20

End School Lunch Shaming

DELEGATE ELIZABETH GUZMAN (VA)

Sponsored by: Del. Elizabeth Guzmán (VA), Del. Alfonso López (VA), and Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (WA)

WHEREAS, the School Breakfast Program (SBP) and National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provide free or reduced-price meals to eligible children and are a nutritional safety net for low income children, providing up to 58% of the recommended daily intake; and,

WHEREAS, children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals if their household income is less than 130% and 185% the federal poverty guidelines, respectively; and,

WHEREAS, according to the School Nutrition Association (SNA), over three-quarters of school districts had uncollected student meal debt on their books at the end of 2016; and,

WHEREAS, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Hispanic children make up 27.4% of all children receiving free and reduced-price lunch through NSLP but only make up 20.4% of all school children; and,

WHEREAS, Hispanic children are the group most likely to be eligible for free or reduced-price school meals but not be receiving them, as 28% of income-eligible NSLP nonparticipants are Hispanic; and,

WHEREAS, school administrators across the country implement different forms of lunch shaming in order to alert the parents of low or overdrawn balances; and,

WHEREAS, some forms of lunch shaming include stamping children on the arm with “I Need Lunch Money,” forcing them to clean cafeteria tables in front of their peers to pay the debt, and throwing their hot food in the trash if they cannot pay for it; and,

WHEREAS, while the USDA recognizes that publicly identifying or stigmatizing students who cannot pay for lunch or owe a meal might cause children distress, it also requires schools to collect unpaid lunch debt and allows schools to come up with their own policies to collect them; and,

WHEREAS, according to the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, for children living in poverty, being a victim of lunch shaming can reinforce feelings of inadequacy, exacerbate feelings of anxiety and despair in their already highly stressful lives, and contribute to these students developing a toxic stress response system that can have pernicious effects on a child’s cognitive development and can lead to serious mental and physical health problems later in life; and,

WHEREAS, lunch shaming can also take a toll on the adults enlisted to carry it out, such as cafeteria employees, by making them feel morally obligated to quit or pay for the students’ meals until they are no longer able to afford doing so; and

WHEREAS, some forms of lunch shaming include stamping children on the arm with “I Need Lunch Money,” forcing them to clean cafeteria tables in front of their peers to pay the debt, and throwing their hot food in the trash if they cannot pay for it; and,

WHEREAS, while the USDA recognizes that publicly identifying or stigmatizing students who cannot pay for lunch or owe a meal might cause children distress, it also requires schools to collect unpaid lunch debt and allows schools to come up with their own policies to collect them; and,

WHEREAS, according to the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, for children living in poverty, being a victim of lunch shaming can reinforce feelings of inadequacy, exacerbate feelings of anxiety and despair in their already highly stressful lives, and contribute to these students developing a toxic stress response system that can have pernicious effects on a child’s cognitive development and can lead to serious mental and physical health problems later in life; and,

WHEREAS, lunch shaming can also take a toll on the adults enlisted to carry it out, such as cafeteria employees, by making them feel morally obligated to quit or pay for the students’ meals until they are no longer able to afford doing so; and

WHEREAS, California, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and most recently, Virginia have already enacted legislation that outlaws shaming children whose parents are behind on school lunch payments and directs schools to work with parents to pay their debts or sign up for federal meal assistance; and,

WHEREAS, an SNA national survey of school meal program operators revealed that a plurality of respondents reported that the federal reimbursements for school breakfast and lunch were not sufficient to cover the costs of producing a meal in the 2015-2016 school year; and,

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators understands that school lunch debt collection policies that single-out or publicly identify children is a cruel punishment to children who do not have control over the lunch payments and that those policies can leave a lasting negative impact on the children’s lives; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators supports legislation that allows children to receive an education without going hungry or getting bullied, stigmatized, or humiliated for not being able to afford the school lunch or because their parent or guardian forgot to make a payment; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators adopts the principle that lunch debt is a matter between the parents or guardians and the school

or school district officials, and that these officials should not inform the child of any payment issues under any circumstances; and,

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators encourages legislation that requires all school districts or regions to:
1. Have their school send all children home with a free or reduced lunch application in multiple languages at the start of each school year; and,
2. Make multiple attempts to contact parents or guardians to enroll their children into free or reduced school lunch programs if they meet the criteria; and,
3. Provide assistance to parents or legal guardians in filling out the application at a school district or region office or at the child’s school; and,
4. Fill out the application on a child’s behalf if the child qualifies for free or reduced school lunch and a guardian or parent of the child has not filled out an application; and,
5. Institute a seven-day grace period after a student’s lunch account balance runs out of funds and a one-month grace period at the beginning of the school year in which no students will be denied lunch while their applications are being processed; and
6. Provide free school lunch to homeless children and children in foster care; and,
7. Provide students with a standard free school lunch regardless of their lunch account balance; and,
8. Act discretely when dealing with lunch debt to avoid ostracizing children and only keep the issue between the administration of the school, district, or region and the children’s parents or legal guardians; and,
9. Implement a policy that prohibits:
a. Branding, singling out, or publicly shaming students that may owe lunch money;
b. Excluding students from activities as punishment for having lunch debt;
c. Providing alternative lunches because of lunch debt;
d. Taking away students’ meals after they have already been served; and,
e. Forcing students to perform manual labor because their parents or guardians have lunch debt.

THE NHCSL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE UNANIMOUSLY APPROVED THIS RESOLUTION AT ITS SUMMER MEETING IN PHOENIX, ARIZONA ON AUGUST 18, 2018.


1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5149064/
2 https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-05-08/pdf/2018-09679.pdf
3
https://schoolnutrition.org/NewsPublications/PressReleases/SNANationalSurveyRevealsIncreasedEffortsToPromoteStudentConsumptionOfHealthyChoices/
4 Elizabeth Condon, et al. (2015). Diet Quality of American School Children by National School Lunch Participation Status: Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005–2010. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/ops/NHANES-NSLP05-10.pdf
5 Ibid.
6 “I need lunch money” stamp: https://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2016/06/gardendale_elementary_student.html
Cleaning the cafeteria: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/07/well/family/new-mexico-outlaws-school-lunch-shaming.html?_r=0
Discarding hot food: http://archive.sltrib.com/story.php?ref=/sltrib/mobile3/57468293-219/lunches-olsen-students-district.html.csp
7 https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/cn/unpaidmealcharges_guide.pdf
8 https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-the-impact-of-early-adversity-on-childrens-development/
9 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/09/20/school-lunch-worker-quits-after-being-forced-to-refuse-hot-meal-to-poor-student/?utm_term=.8853eda7632c https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/07/well/family/new-mexico-outlaws-school-lunch-shaming.html?_r=0
10 https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB250
11 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/07/well/family/new-mexico-outlaws-school-lunch-shaming.html?_r=0
12 https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2017R1/Downloads/MeasureDocument/HB3454/Enrolled
13 http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2017-18/Pdf/Bills/House%20Passed%20Legislature/2610-S.PL.pdf
14 https://www.localdvm.com/news/virginia/anti-lunch-shaming-bill-brought-to-the-table-by-nova-politicians-parents-goes-into-effect/1279931079
15 https://schoolnutrition.org/NewsPublications/PressReleases/SNANationalSurveyRevealsIncreasedEffortsToPromoteStudentConsumptionOfHealthyChoices/
16 According to James Spratt, a child psychologist who has worked with Florida schoolchildren for more than 20 years, children are often not aware that their parents do not have money and if they are denied lunch, the children will think that it was their fault. https://www.thepennyhoarder.com/food/school-lunch-shaming/
17 The local educational agency may determine, based on information available to it, that a child for whom an application has not been submitted meets the local educational agency's eligibility criteria for free and reduced-price meals.
18 Branding refers to any sort of marking of the student’s body, clothing or belongings.
19 http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20170427/in-debt-at-school-you-get-cheese-sandwich