Ilhan Omar Wants Schools to Stop Shaming Students Who Have Lunch Debt
Reports have documented the public shaming of students whose families are struggling to afford school meals and cannot pay their school lunch debt -- they have been branded with stamps; being given cheaper, less appetizing meals than the other students; or even having their lunches thrown away in front of them.Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) wants to put an end to the shaming. The No Shame at School Act, which she introduced on Wednesday, would prohibit schools from taking any action that stigmatizes students who cannot pay their meal fees. This includes any kind of overt identification like tokens or wristbands, publishing a list of children with outstanding debts, or using a debt collector to obtain school meal fees. The bill would also require schools to attempt to certify a child with unpaid meal fees and subsequently allow that school to receive retroactive reimbursement for that child’s meals for up to 90 days. “We know that going hungry is not a choice. No child chooses to skip a meal. No parent chooses to go hungry themselves so that their child can have a full belly. Hunger and debt are a national problem,” the Congresswoman said at a press conference announcing the bill. She was joined by Valerie Castile, the mother of student cafeteria supervisor Philando Castile who in 2016 was fatally shot by a police officer in Minnesota. She and her organization recently donated $8,000 to a Minnesota high school to settle school lunch debts in honor of her son, who would often pay out of his own pocket to make sure kids would have a meal for lunch. “If we can give a tax cut to the rich, then we can make sure that students are fed at school and not shamed,” Castile said. More than 75% of school districts reported having unpaid student meal debt at the end of the 2016-2017 school year. Although the USDA -- which during the 2017-2018 school year began requiring schools to implement debt collection programs -- spends about $22 billion on child nutrition programs, it prohibits schools from allocating those funds to pay for the debt. More here.