Recent news stories have shed much-needed light on the many barriers children from different socioeconomic backgrounds can face on a daily basis. One of these issues concerns school lunch shaming, which is when schools offer "alternative lunches" to kids whose families cannot afford to pay fees or have debts. And as America continues to battle this increasingly pressing issue, it was revealed over the weekend that the state of California has banned school lunch shaming with a new law designed to promote fairness for all kids.
First introduced into the state senate by California Sen. Bob Hertzberg and coauthored by California Sen. Scott Wilk, the Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act of 2017 "ensures that a pupil whose parent or guardian has unpaid school meal fees is not shamed, treated differently, or served a meal that differs from" other children whose fees have been paid, according to California Legislative Information. Translation: California schools can no longer deny a student a meal of their choice due to debt.
The initiative is an important one because as Hertzberg's office noted, "too many children are left hungry and with negative feelings about their learning environments" as a result of lunch shaming.
Upon signing the bill into law Saturday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said, according to his website: "Creating a ‘California for All’ means ensuring schools are inclusive, accepting, and welcoming of all kids" and that this bill would bring the state "closer to that goal."
The issue of lunch shaming was recently brought to the nation's attention after Napa County elementary school student Ryan Kyote paid off his classmates' school lunch debt after saving up his allowance. "I want them to realize people actually think about them because you're not just bragging about stuff," the elementary school student said, according to told ABC News7. "I want them to feel happy that someone cares about them."
Kyote also met with Newsom earlier this year, when the state leader said he was "committed to working on the issue."
In another recent example that made national headlines, a Pennsylvania school district allegedly sent a letter home threatening parents that their children would go to foster care if they failed to pay their dues.
In a swift response, the overseer of the county's foster care system, County Manager David Pedri, said, as noted in CNN, "The foster care system should never be viewed as a punitive agency or weaponized to terrorize children and families."
But these aren't isolated incidents. Recent numbers by the School Nutrition Association show that in the 2016-2017 school year, three-fourths of school districts reported having unpaid student meal debt. And out of those school districts, 40.2% said the number of students without adequate funds increased the following year, according to the association.
The rising national issue has also grabbed the attention of large organizations and companies such as Chobani, which recently paid of $47,650 of the $77,000 school lunch debt for a Rhode Island school district that allegedly threatened to provide children who failed to pay their fees with only butter and jelly sandwiches until their debts were paid, according to CNN.
Now that California has taken a major step forward to tackle an increasingly widespread problem facing many children and families, hopefully it will only be a matter of time before this issue is addressed in other states.