Legislators, hunger-fight leaders push Pa. ‘lunch shaming’ ban

HARRISBURG, PA — State legislators and leaders in the fight against hunger spoke at a Capitol news conference today about bipartisan legislation that would stop “lunch shaming” in Pennsylvania schools.

The term includes a wide variety of practices by a school to embarrass a child whose family is behind on their lunch payments, such as:

  • ordering cafeteria workers to throw away the hot lunches of children who owe money – “yes, this actually happens!” said state Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Phila., the lead sponsor of the House bill to ban lunch shaming (H.B. 1403);
  • making the children work to pay off the debt; and
  • publicly stigmatizing a student who cannot pay for a meal or who owes a meal debt by, for example, requiring that the child wear a wristband or hand stamp.

“These things often result in children being humiliated and embarrassed in front of their peers. These things often result in tears. Of course we all want parents to stay current on their children’s lunch accounts, but publicly shaming the child to collect that debt is shocking and completely unacceptable. And we need to help parents to apply if their kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunches,” Bullock said.

“Lunch shaming is counterproductive. It is cruel. And it only hurts a child’s ability to learn. Under my bill, based on a recently enacted New Mexico law, these practices would be banned and schools would be required to direct communications about a student’s meal debt where they belong, to a parent or guardian,” Bullock said.

“No one’s child should get bullied for their lunch money – it’s not OK when the school does it, either.”

Stacy Koltiska has first-hand experience with lunch shaming. She made national news last fall when she resigned as a cafeteria worker due to a lunch shaming policy at the Canon-McMillan School District in Washington County.

“When I heard my school district was implementing this new policy, I was shocked and horrified.  As a mother of three and a Christian, I couldn’t imagine something so inhuman. Our children have a hard enough time growing up in today’s world with peer pressure and cyberbullying, so for a school to shame and humiliate children over a lunch is unimaginable. Schools should be protecting our children, not humiliating them,” Koltiska said.

Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, lead sponsor of the Senate bill (S.B. 709) to stop lunch shaming in Pennsylvania, said, “At some point, it became OK for some school districts to allow children to be bullied for circumstances far beyond their control – it’s unconscionable and unacceptable.

“My legislation in the Senate sets the bar where it always should have been, preventing anyone from ever singling out a child, especially for their ability to pay for lunch. No one can stamp them, make them wear a bracelet, or require them to do chores to eat. We need to be providing support to families in need, not targeting their children.”

Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny, said, “An overdue lunch bill must not mean an empty belly, and no kid should be publicly shamed as a way of sending a message to parents.”

Rep. Perry Warren, D-Bucks, said, “Practices such as throwing away a lunch because of the balance on a student’s account can harm and humiliate a hungry child, who has no control over the situation. Schools need to work directly with parents on lunch payment issues. Our kids come to school to learn, and they shouldn’t have to worry about being stigmatized or going hungry at lunchtime.”

Jane Clements-Smith, executive director, Feeding Pennsylvania, said, “At Feeding Pennsylvania, we know the struggles of making ends meet because our member food banks serve nearly 2 million people annually, half a million of whom are children. For many of these children, school lunch is one of the only guaranteed meals of the day. We are proud to support Representative Bullock and Senator Costa’s legislation which addresses the impact that lunch shaming has on children and families who are already facing so many burdens in addition to finding enough money for lunch.”

Glenn Bergman, executive director, Philabundance, said, “Philabundance provides food to 90,000 people each week, and one third of those individuals are children. We know how detrimental childhood food insecurity is and we must do our best to collaborate to ensure these children receive the food they need. Our kids should never have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, or whether or not they are going to be shamed for their lack of funds to pay for school meals. We are grateful to Representative Bullock and Senator Costa for introducing legislation that would be a step forward in banning the horrific practice and helping in the fight against hunger.”

H.B. 1403 and S.B. 709 are in the House and Senate education committees, respectively.

SOURCE: State Rep. Donna Bullock