Proposal seeks to end ‘meal shaming’ in schools
Working in an elementary school cafeteria, Wendy Timmons said all she wanted to do was serve children a hot lunch and put smiles on their faces.
But if a student’s family fell behind in paying their school meal account, the smile could quickly turn to tears.
“I had to ask them if they have any money,” Timmons recalled. “If they didn’t have any money, I had to take the meal away, and hold up my hands in the shape of a C,” a signal that instructed the server to prepare an “alternative” lunch for the child – generally a cold cheese sandwich.
The uneaten hot lunch, for sanitary reasons, would then be thrown out.
Critics often refer to such policies as “meal shaming” or “lunch shaming,” because of the humiliation it can cause children who are singled out in the lunch line through no fault of their own.
Timmons was among those urging the Massachusetts Legislature’s education committee Tuesday to approve a measure aimed at preventing children from being caught in the middle of disputes between school districts and families with unpaid meal debt. The committee voted to study it further.
“No school should punish a child for not having lunch money,” said Democratic Sen. Cynthia Creem, of Newton, a sponsor of the bill that seeks, among other things, to prohibit school employees from forcing a child to accept an alternative meal or taking other actions, such as barring students from extracurricular activities or even graduation ceremonies.