Importance of Educational Advocacy: Lunch Shaming

by Jim Hennessey of the Iowa Child Advocacy Board

I think we are all aware of the importance of educational success and stability in the lives of children served by the CASA and FCRB programs. It is important for us to constantly be vigilant in seeing that children’s educational needs are being met and that barriers to success and stability in school are overcome.

On April 17, 2018, the Iowa General Assembly adopted and Governor Reynolds signed HF 2467 which provide a new approach to help assure that children, including the ones our programs serve, are protected from undue targeting and embarrassment when their families are unable to pay for school lunches timely.

The new law prohibits what is commonly referred to as food shaming or lunch shaming in the schools. The specific language in the law is:

5. a. A school is prohibited from posting a list of students who owe money for school meals and from engaging in any of the following acts directed toward a student because the student cannot pay for a meal or owes a meal debt:

(1) Publicly identifying or stigmatizing the student, including but not limited to requiring the student to consume the meal at a table set aside for such purpose or to discard a meal after the meal has been served.

(2) Requiring the student to wear a wristband, hand stamp, or identification marks, or to do chores or other work to pay for meals.

(3) Denying participation in an after school program or other extracurricular activity to the student.

(4) Providing an alternative meal that is only offered to a student who has accrued meal debt. A school that offers the option of an alternative meal shall present the meal in the same manner to any student requesting an alternative meal so as not to identify a student as having accrued meal debt.

b. A school shall direct communications about a student’s meal debt to a parent or guardian and may discreetly provide information about the student’s meal account to the student as long as the communication with the student does not violate paragraph ”a.” This paragraph does not prohibit a school from sending a letter home with a student addressed to the student’s parent or guardian, or from contacting the parent or guardian via phone or other electronic means.

The legislation goes on to provide guidance to schools about how they might go about setting up an ” unpaid student meals account in a school nutrition fund” to help pay the cost of meals that students and their families cannot afford.

If you become aware of a concern about a child being affected by the practice known as “lunch shaming” in your individual child advocacy work, please alert the school to the new approaches the legislature has developed to help the child avoid distress.  For many of the children we serve, success and stability in their educational progress is already challenged.  Anything we can do to alleviate the challenge is important.