Press Releases

Governor Signs Hertzberg Bill Ending Practice of Lunch Shaming in California

SB 265 represents a years-long effort to ensure school districts do not withhold lunch or provide alternative meals to students with debt

October 13, 2019

SACRAMENTO – Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) announced today that Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 265, a bill that will end the practice of lunch shaming students whose parents have outstanding school lunch debt.

In recent years, the practice of school lunch shaming has come to light. In some school cafeterias, students who haven’t paid lunch fees are directed out of lunch lines and instead given bread and cheese, or their lunches are simply dumped into the garbage while peers look on.

SB 265 builds on the progress made by SB 250 (Hertzberg, 2017), which made it illegal to treat a child differently in the school lunch line because of debt owed by their parents. Since that bill’s passage, some schools have unfortunately continued to maintain policies that deny children as young as 5 a meal or force them to accept an alternative meal because their parents are behind on payments. As a result, too many children are left hungry and with negative feelings about their learning environments.

SB 265 ensures once and for all that meal charge policies established by school officials are not allowed to delay or deny food, or provide an alternative meal to punish students.

“The fact that this still happens anywhere in our country is shameful,” said Senator Hertzberg. “To make children choose an alternative meal or flat out deny them of one because of the debt of their parents is completely unacceptable. I thank the Governor for recognizing that we must end this practice once and for all in California.”

Students have a harder time focusing and learning when they are hungry, and 23 percent of California children come from families living below the federal poverty line. According to a national survey conducted in 2015 by the anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength, 75 percent of teachers say their students come to school hungry and 59 percent say “a lot or most” of their students depend on school meals as a primary source of nutrition.

"A child should never be used as a pawn to collect a debt from their parent," said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, who sponsored the legislation. "Making kids go hungry or shaming them in front of their peers in order to coerce a payment from their parent goes against the central purpose of our public education system and against California's values. We are grateful to the Legislature for their bi-partisan support of SB 265 and to Governor Newsom for his signature.”

Media Contact: Katie Hanzlik
Press Secretary
Senator Robert M. Hertzberg
Capitol Building, Room 313
(916) 651-4018