School lunch has been a huge topic of discussion lately. From school districts threatening to send children to foster care over lunch debt, to community members donating their own money to pay off unpaid lunch bills, the school lunch debate has heated up over the last year. Just recently an Ohio boy, Jefferson Sharpnack, had his cheese sticks and sauce took away from him by a school employee and replaced with a cheese sandwich over $9.75 in school debt. A new California law would prevent such an incident.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that guarantees students will still receive the standard lunch options even if their family has not paid their lunch debt.
The key piece of the legislation has to do with what type of meal the children receive. Most schools don’t deny students lunch over meal debt, but many require students to take an alternative, less appetizing lunch because of it. Critics say most students would never choose the lunch debt options for themselves, so other students know they are only eating that lunch because their family didn’t have the money to pay. Many have referred to this practice as “lunch shaming.”
Author of the bill, California state Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D – Van Nuys), says students shouldn’t be singled out and shamed because their parents didn’t pay a bill.
You’ve got kids today who go to school and they get their hot lunches taken away from them because their parents haven’t paid the bill, and they get replaced — here in Los Angeles where I’m from — with half a sandwich and four ounces of juice,” said Hertzberg. Collect money from the parents, it’s no problem. Take money out of their bank accounts or whatever the case may be. But don’t put these kids in a situation where you’re shaming them.
The law also attempts to clarify more effective ways to notify and collect lunch debts from families.