How schools are moving past lunch shaming

One New Jersey district eases up lunch restriction but bars in-debt students from prom and other activities
By: | October 17, 2019
Lunch shaming in California is now against the law, and students with unpaid school lunch debt fees can now receive state-funded lunches.gettyimages.com: Wavebreakmedia Ltd

California has banned lunch shaming and guaranteed that students will receive state-funded lunches even if they have unpaid school lunch debt fees. 

Additionally, schools no longer have to provide students who are in debt with “alternative” meals, according to the new law.

Earlier this year, Oregon began spending $40 million to ensure that more than 60 percent of public school students are included in the state’s federal free breakfast and lunch program, according to the Statesman Journal.

In 2017, New Mexico became the first state to ban lunch shaming and related practices such as requiring students to do school chores to pay off their debt or throwing meals in the trash after they’ve been served, District Administration reported

Changing lunch shaming policies

In Indiana, Lebanon Community Schools leaders are reviewing its policies and procedures after Harney Elementary School lunch staff shamed two students because they didn’t have enough money on their account, according to RTV6 Indianapolis.


From DA: New Mexico is first state to ban lunch shaming policies


“The lady took their food from them in front of everyone in the lunchroom and told them because they didn’t have money on there that they were not allowed to eat,” the students’ mother told RTV6


From DA: K12 is moving to ease food insecurity


After receiving national criticism, Cherry Hill Public Schools in New Jersey recently changed a lunch shaming policy that limited students with unpaid school lunch debt to tuna sandwiches. Now, the district will ban these students from the prom, senior class trips, school dances, buying yearbooks or participating in after-school events and classtrips, reported New Jersey 101.5.

Finding CEP sources

Many large cities take advantage of the federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows districts in low-income areas to serve free breakfast and lunch to students even if they don’t apply for assistance.

Other districts and schools should consider the CEP because its staff can say whether an individual school is eligible for the program, Janet Poppendieck, a sociology professor at Hunter College, City University of New York, told DA.

States are required each summer to list on a website the schools that are eligible for the program.

“They’ll never have to collect another school lunch debt,”  says Poppendieck, who is also the author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America


Resource: Best Practices for Preventing or Reducing School Meal Debt

Related: Improvements made to school meals may be lost due to government deregulation