Bill aims to end “lunch shaming” in Wisconsin schools

Bill aims to end “lunch shaming” in Wisconsin schools

(Wis.) Wisconsin could become the latest state to require schools to provide breakfast or lunch to any student who requests it, regardless of their ability to pay, under a bill moving through the State Legislature.

Known as the Hungry Free School Zone Act, AB 84 would also ban schools from publically identifying or stigmatizing students who are unable to pay for a meal or who have outstanding meal debt–often referred to as “lunch shaming.”

Community groups including the Hunger Task Force, a non-profit organization based in Milwaukee that works to prevent hunger and malnutrition, came out in support of the bill last month.

“Shaming a child by denying a meal, serving a plain cheese sandwich or offering some goldfish crackers doesn’t help their parents pay the meal bill,” according to the group’s website. “It only makes it more difficult for the student to focus on class and increases hunger.”

The bill’s author, Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, pointed to instances of lunch shaming throughout the state as the impetus of AB 84.

Last year, for instance, it was reported that the principal of a high school located in the mid-state community of Stanley, approached a student to tell them that their lunch balance was negative before taking away the child’s lunch tray and discarding the food in a waste bin. Several parents and students told local reporters the incident wasn’t unique.

Similar instanced have been reported in other states including Washington, Virginia, Texas, Alaska and Pennsylvania.

Other practices that have come under scrutiny throughout the country include stamping a child’s hand when they’re short on funds or having them call home to request money from their parents, serving a plain cheese sandwich instead of a regular meal, or prohibiting students from graduating or participating in school clubs or activities if they have a meal debt.

New Mexico became the first state to officially end lunch shaming in 2017, and has since been followed by states including Illinois, California and Iowa.

Tauchen’s bill would prohibit schools from requiring students to give up meals because of their inability to pay. It would also ban districts from requiring children to work off their debt doing chores at the school or in the lunch room, as well as from requiring parents to pay fees or costs charged by collection agency to get the outstanding debt paid.

Schools would be permitted to accept donations or gifts that are made to pay for student meals, however. Districts would also be required to annually provide information regarding the application process to receive free or reduced-price meals to the parent or guardian of each pupil enrolled in the school.

Districts would also need to determine if families qualify for free and reduced meal benefits and file an application on the student’s behalf if the family does not take the initiative.

The bill currently has 16 co-sponsors in addition to Tauchen in the State House of Representatives as well as five in the Senate. Of them, eight are Republicans and 13 are Democrats.

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