TRENTON, NJ — What can a school do when a student’s lunch account is not paid? Lunch shaming — a practice that involves “stigmatizing,” or publicly singling out this student — is one action that should never be taken, according to state Assembly Conference Leader David P. Rible.
The state legislator, whose 30th District includes Belmar and Lake Como, is sponsoring legislation that would prohibit schools from lunch shaming students whose school lunch accounts are overdue.
The bill amends an existing New Jersey statute to prohibit stigmatization or discrimination of a student whose account is in debt, while permitting the school to alert the parent or guardian in a written letter.
“The practice of ‘lunch shaming’ was brought to my attention by an Ocean County parent who was appalled by these practices, and I wanted to ensure that students in New Jersey wouldn’t be subject to the same treatment,” Rible said.
Lunch shaming occurs when a student’s lunch account is in debt or he/she does have money to pay for lunch, and the student is forced to throw out the lunch or is given a cold alternative, like a cheese sandwich and fruit. Other forms of the practice include requiring the student to wear a stamp, sticker or wristband, or to perform chores to pay the bill.
“Children should never be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed of their family’s financial situation,” Rible said. “I am hopeful that, with this legislation, we will no longer have students who are stigmatized through no fault of their own.”
At Belmar Elementary School, Principal Lisa Gleason said that the school works closely with Simplified Culinary Services, its food service provider, to ensure that students whose accounts are delinquent are “treated equitably and with sensitivity” when it comes to receiving a nutritious lunch.
“Parents are contacted to make them aware of the status of their child’s account,” she said. “However, students continue to receive lunch on a daily basis and are not held responsible for the status of their lunch accounts.”
In April, New Mexico became the first state to specifically ban lunch shaming with the passage of the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights, whose goal is to settle up with the parents and let the students eat shame-free.
In recent years, an increasing number of lunch shaming incidents has emerged across the country, prompting the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees school lunch programs, to explore the problem. It currently is working to update federal requirements and policies to assist state and local school officials with crafting their own lunch-debt regulations.