New Mexico recently made it illegal for schools to stigmatize students who cannot afford to pay for their food at school. This came after an incident from Alabama came into the limelight where a child lacking funds for lunch was stamped on the arm with “I Need Lunch Money.” In some schools, such children are singled out by being forced to clean cafeteria tables to pay their debt or having their hot food thrown away in front of their eyes.
Now, on April 17, trustees at Billings Public Schools in Montana decided to move to prevent “lunch-shaming.” The goal is to "insure compliance with federal reporting requirements for the USDA Child Nutrition Program."
The USDA announced that schools will now deal with students differently if they cannot afford their meals. Under the new law, children can sign up for free or reduced lunch programs based on their family’s income. Elementary students will receive five free passes for lunch if they run out of funds in their account after which they get a “designated menu alternate” which includes items such as "cheese sandwich, veggie sticks, fruit and milk.”
High school students who normally pay full price for their lunch will not receive free passes in case they run out of cash, but can sign up for alternate meals. High schoolers on low price meals will get the five passes.
"If a student is without meal money on a consistent basis, the administration will investigate the situation more closely and take further action as needed. If financial hardship exists, parents and families are encouraged to apply for free or reduced-price lunches for their child,” the policy further specifies.
All the above policies are set to be implemented by July 1, by which they will also be communicated to parents and staff. The USDA will soon require all school districts to have set policies on how to deal with children who cannot pay for their food.
"We're saying feed these children first, and let the grownups sort out the finances," says Jennifer Ramo, who's with the anti-hunger group, New Mexico Appleseed.
"I'm hoping communities really put pressure on their own districts to say, 'We want our children fed,'" she added.
Hopefully, the introduction of these new policies will remove the discrimination between students of different socio-economic backgrounds and prevent children from being degraded if they can’t afford their food.