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Lunch shaming prevention bill heads to House Floor

Michelle Koffa, a policy manager with EdAllies, testifies Feb. 28 before the House Education Policy Committee on HF55, sponsored by Rep. Tony Jurgens, left. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Despite the fact lunch-shaming students for having lunch debt is illegal, advocates say it’s still happening.

“New stories across the state show schools stigmatizing, demeaning and shaming students for outstanding lunch debt,” Michelle Koffa, a policy manager with EdAllies told the House Education Policy Committee Friday.

To address this, Rep. Tony Jurgens (R-Cottage Grove) sponsors HF55 that would require schools that participate in the national school lunch program to adopt, post and adhere to a policy prohibiting lunch shaming and provide meals in a respectful manner.

School "lunch shaming" bill heard 2/28/20

The bill was approved as amended by the committee and now heads to the House Floor. The companion, SF411, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury), awaits action by the Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committee.

The proposal would reinforce existing law that prohibits schools from using demeaning practices to collect lunch debt. While the practices are currently illegal, Jurgens said that it still happens too often. Given that, he’s worked with stakeholders for the last several years to strengthen policy language. 

Provisions within the proposal would:

  • require participants of the national school lunch program to adopt, post and implement a respectful lunch policy;
  • require that all communication relating to school meal debt be delivered only to the student’s parent or guardian;
  • prohibit withdrawing food from a student if it’s determined they have lunch debt;
  • prohibit participants from imposing restrictions on students in an effort to collect unpaid balances;
  • prohibit participants from denying school lunch to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, despite outstanding balances; and
  • require the Department of Education to hold noncompliant schools accountable.

Koffa said these changes will go a long way in maintaining students’ dignity as they seek the basic human need of food and ensure that communication of student lunch debt remains between adults.

“Many of us can remember school lunch as being a time to build community with peers. Practices that shame students do the opposite of this,” she said. “As adults we must protect students from shameful practices, like keeping them out of the communication about outstanding lunch balances.”

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