The state of California has joined the effort to stop “lunch shaming” in schools.
The amendment to the Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act of 2017 requires all local educational agencies, including school districts, educational offices and charter schools, to invalidate any policies that single out students who can’t pay for lunch. According to the governor’s office, it ensures that “all students receive a state reimbursable meal of their choice, even if their parent or guardian has unpaid meal fees.”
In some cases, instead of getting a hot lunch, students who had lunch debt or lacked the money to pay were served “alternate meals” such as a simple sandwich.
In a news release about the bill’s passage, Newsom commended California 10-year-old Ryan Kyote, saying, “I want to thank Ryan for his empathy and his courage in bringing awareness to this important issue.”
Kyote previously made headlines for using his allowance to help cover the lunch debt of his classmates. He got to meet with Newsom, which the governor’s office tweeted about, saying, “For Ryan, it was just wrong that some kids couldn’t afford to eat lunch. He’s right about that.”
Governor @GavinNewsom had the honor to meet Ryan Kyote last week. This amazing young man saved his allowance and used it to pay his classmates’ lunch debt. For Ryan, it was just wrong that some kids couldn’t afford to eat lunch. He’s right about that. #CaliforniaForAll pic.twitter.com/4DIse1OEGo
— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) August 9, 2019
California is not the first state to pass an anti-lunch-shaming law for schools in the state. New Mexico led the way, and states including Oregon, Maine, New York, Texas and Washington have passed similar laws. Individual school districts in different states have dealt with the issue as well; in an incident in Rhode Island, backlash against an announced policy to serve cold sandwiches to students with lunch debt caused district officials to rescind its new rule almost immediately.
The National Education Association reports about 15 states now have anti-lunch shaming rules in place, but lawmakers are going further. In April, a bipartisan group of senators introduced bill S. 1119, the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act of 2019, to Congress. Advocates hope this bill will eliminate differential treatment surrounding lunch debt all over the country.
These bills do have the side effect of accumulating a large amount of debt for school districts, many of which are trying to figure out how to deal with the extra cost of unpaid meals.
Lunch shaming has been a hot topic in the U.S. in the past few years. There have been some well-publicized campaigns to pay off student lunch debt, including a charity in the name of Philando Castile that covered the meal debt of public school students in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Castile had worked in school nutrition services and covered student lunch debt before he was shot and killed by police in a 2016 traffic stop.)
With this step, however, kids in California will now be among the students who don’t have to worry about not having enough money for lunch at school. And soon, the entire country may follow its lead!