Legislation to Prevent School Lunch Shaming Clears Education Committee
The Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act establishes a process to tackle school lunch debts without publicly embarrassing kids
SACRAMENTO – Legislation by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, to stop schools from publicly shaming or embarrassing students by either denying them lunch or providing a snack instead because their parents haven’t paid lunch fees passed the Senate Education Committee today.
SB 250 ensures that school officials do not delay or deny food to hungry students as punishment for unpaid school meal fees, and it directs schools to establish a process for notifying their families about unpaid fees and collecting them.
The committee passed the bill on a 6-0 vote. SB 250 goes next to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.
“We must stop school lunch shaming and create a different approach for tackling lunch fee debt,” Hertzberg said. “We want to make sure that kids, no matter how poor their families may be, get a nutritious lunch and the energy they need to succeed in school.”
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.
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 250 forbids this practice and requires schools to make meals available to needy kids, even if their fees have not been paid. The bill directs schools to exhaust all options in finding a way to certify students for free or reduced-price meals or reimburse them for the fees.
In addition, schools must notify guardians when unpaid lunch fees exceed the amount for five full-priced lunches.
The legislation is co-sponsored by the Western Center on Law and Poverty, Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations, Children’s Defense Fund-California and MAZON. It is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, California; the California Association of Food Banks; the California School Nurses Organization; SEIU California; and many other organizations.
“National School Lunch Program is an essential program, preventing hunger and securing opportunity one lunch tray at a time,” said Jessica Bartholow, of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “California’s school nutrition professionals are some of the best in the country. This bill will help clarify rules for them, families and for kids when school lunches go unpaid and remove opportunities for school children to be shamed or go hungry in the school environment.”
Bob Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, represents nearly 1 million San Fernando Valley residents of Senate District 18, which includes part of Burbank and the following communities in Los Angeles: Arleta, Granada Hills, Hansen Dam, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, North Hollywood, part of Northridge, Pacoima, Panorama City, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, part of Sun Valley, Sylmar, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Van Nuys, the City of San Fernando and Universal City. See a district map at http://sd18.senate.ca.gov/district. After serving in the Assembly from 1996-2002, including two years as Speaker, Hertzberg invested in solar, wind and electric-car projects; and worked for structural changes in government through the Think Long Committee of California. Learn more at www.senate.ca.gov/hertzberg.
MEDIA CONTACT: Andrew LaMar
Senator Robert M. Hertzberg
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, CA 95814