A bill introduced in the Michigan Senate on Wednesday aims to end what a legislator has dubbed “lunch shaming” of students.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D–Flint, introduced Senate Bill 668, which includes what he calls a “Hunger-Free Student Bill of Rights.” Ananich’s bill seeks to address any practice that stigmatizes students who cannot afford to purchase a school-provided lunch.
Ananich, a former teacher, said some schools require students to wear a wristband, perform tasks on behalf of the school, or accept what he deemed “a substandard meal” if they cannot afford to pay for school lunches.
“We cannot expect a child to succeed in the classroom if they are hungry or have been publicly shamed for not having enough money in their lunch account,” Ananich said in a statement. “For some kids, lunch is the only certain meal of the day. No child should go hungry at school, and my goal is to equip school districts with better options for dealing with lunch debt.”
According to the news release, Ananich was prompted to draft the bill after Harmony Lloyd, a mother who is also employed by the Flint Transportation Authority, anecdotally witnessed a school employee taking away a student’s lunch and throwing it away when it was discovered the student’s account had an insufficient balance.
“Kids face so many challenges at school today,” Lloyd said in the news release. “Being forced to go hungry or embarrassed by staff because of a financial issue they have no control over is unacceptable. Lunch debts should be handled between the parent and the school, and the child should be kept out of it. Understanding that it’s wrong to physically take a lunch tray out of a child’s hand and announce they have no money should not be a partisan issue, but an issue of simple kindness and humanity. I’m confident we can do better.”
In part, the bill reads: “The board of a school district or board of directors of a public school academy shall provide free and reduced price meals and free milk to all pupils eligible under the maximum standards prescribed by the United States Department of Agriculture under section 9 of the Richard B. Russell national school lunch act, 42 USC 1758; shall ensure the confidentiality of all information contained in applications for eligibility; and shall further ensure that eligible pupils are not discriminated against or overtly identified in any manner.”
Additionally, the bill states: “The board of a school district or board of directors of a public school academy shall not publicly identify or stigmatize a pupil who cannot pay for a school meal or who owes a school-meal debt by requiring a pupil to wear a wristband or handstamp or by any other means.”
The measure does allow school officials to discuss the student’s lunch bill only if contact with parents by phone, email or U.S. mail fails. If the school cannot reach the student’s parents or legal guardian, the proposed legislation prohibits officials from addressing the student in the presence of other students.
“My bill gives school districts options that will minimize budget impact – like providing federally reimbursable meals to kids and allowing good actors in the community to help cover the funds – rather than forcing schools to absorb lunch debts into their own limited budgets,” Ananich said. “Let’s agree to make sure kids are fed first, and let the schools and parents work out the details later. No child should have to go hungry in school, period.”
Senate Bill 668 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education.