State policies to address school lunch shaming

Unpaid school lunch debt is a challenge for school districts nationwide, and some districts have engaged in public shaming of students—such as publicly throwing out their food or blocking them from graduating—in an effort to recoup costs. State action on unpaid school lunch debt has proliferated since we wrote about school lunch shaming last June.

California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Texas have enacted legislation to clarify procedures for situations in which students do not have sufficient funds for school meals. Approaches vary by state. California and Oregon banned practices that publicly identify students with meal debt and treat them differently than they do other students. Hawaii and Texas established grace periods for students, allowing local authorities flexibility to determine how to proceed. At least nine other states are currently considering legislation: Arizona, Indiana, Maine, New York, OklahomaPennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, and Washington have proposed laws that would tackle shaming practices, and Colorado is considering legislation that would provide free meals for elementary and middle school students otherwise eligible for reduced-price meals.

These initiatives are notable in that they address the intersection between student nutrition, emotional well-being and safety, and ability to learn. As other state and local authorities work to refine school meal policies, we’ll be watching to see whether and how these priorities will remain at the forefront.