California Governor Gavin Newson has just signed into law a bill which guarantees that all students will be receiving meals of their choosing, regardless of whether or not their parents or guardians have outstanding meal fees – essentially he’s now banned school lunch shaming in the state of California. As per the legislation, students who’s families have outstanding meal balances will not be “shamed, treated differently, or served a meal that differs” from what the rest of the student body are being given.
Newsom’s support of the bill was partially inspired by the kindness shown by a 9-year-old student at a Napa County elementary school, who used up his entire allowance in order to pay off the $74.80 lunch debt of his fellow third grade students.
Newsom said in a statement, “He showed how at many schools across the country, students whose parents are not able to pay for their lunch are given a cheaper, ‘alternative’ lunch that causes them to stick out from their peers.”
We have all heard the stories surrounding school lunch debt – something that is prevalent across the entire US – and these stories have drawn in plenty of public attention in the past few months. Not long ago, a Pennsylvania school district made headlines after it sent out letters to parents warning that if they didn’t pay outstanding balances then their kids could end up going into foster care. There was another case of the founder of Chobani, Hamdi Ulukaya, who donated almost $50,000 in order to pay off the lunch debts of a Rhode Island school district that was planning to deny hot meals to the students with outstanding meal fees.
Glad to see that California is now banning the practice of shaming or denying students over lunch fees. No child should ever be made to feel ashamed or belittled because of their family’s inability to pay. Sometimes we forget how lucky some of us are.
Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.