Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) announced that the Senate has advanced a funding bill by a vote of 84-9 that includes an amendment she authored with Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) to prevent lunch shaming.
Senators Collins and Udall’s amendment, which is based on a bill they introduced in April titled the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act, would ban schools from singling out children — such as by requiring them to wear hand stamps or do extra chores — because their parents or guardians have not paid their school meal bills. It would direct the USDA to provide additional guidance to program operators to address the ongoing issue of shaming school children for unpaid school lunch fees. Under the provision, schools would be encouraged to identify approaches that protect children from public embarrassment; communicate outstanding unpaid school lunch fees with the parent or guardian, not the child; and take additional steps to ensure that all students who qualify for free and reduced meals are efficiently enrolled to receive them.
“All students, regardless of socioeconomic status, should have the opportunity to learn in a supportive environment,” said Senator Collins, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. “No child should feel ashamed or stigmatized because he or she cannot afford to pay for school meals. By prohibiting schools from refusing a meal as a form of disciplinary action or openly identifying a student who cannot pay or owes money, this important provision will also help to prevent hunger and allow students to focus on their studies.”
According to a 2014 report by the USDA, nearly half of all school districts used some form of lunch shaming to compel parents to pay for their child’s school meals. Often, students’ hot lunches are taken away and replaced with an alternative meal, such as a cold cheese sandwich. In other cases, children are forced to do chores in front of their peers, made to wear wristbands or handstamps declaring their inability to pay, or have their lunch thrown out as their friends and classmates look on. Unfortunately, stories continue to be told from across the country about practices of lunch shaming affecting students inside and out of school cafeterias.
Some of the states that have passed legislation to prohibit lunch shaming include: Maine, New Mexico, Virginia, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Texas, Iowa, Washington, Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania; a variety of other state legislatures are currently considering measures to address this shameful practice.