'Lunch shaming' could soon be a thing of the past

'Lunch shaming' could soon be a thing of the past

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LUBBOCK, Texas -

Can you imagine your child having to settle for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, without the peanut because there isn't enough money in their lunch account? 

"Lunch shaming" has become a nationwide issue and Texas legislators are working to end it through a new bill.

Lubbock Independent School District serves an average of 42,000 meals a day.

"Each semester is approximately 90 service days," Director of Child Nutrition Lori Johnson said. 

Each semester, the district must eat an average of $2,000 in unpaid lunches.

"Our average meal price is around $2, so it's about 1,000 meals that are unpaid each semester, which is relatively low to the 42,000 that we serve every day," Johnson said. 

The district, like many, has a charge limit policy.
"When they get to that limit, we provide an alternative meal because of our tracking system there may be a few isolated incidents that normally we are providing for them and we know the students that it affects so there can be less confusion or focusing on the student at the register," Johnson said.

So they are not embarrassed when they go to cash out.

"Our alternative meal choice is a Sunbutter and jelly sandwich with milk and we do Sunbutter to avoid peanut allergies," Johnson said. 

Kelvin Holt, a teacher in East Texas has a problem with what he calls, "shame sandwiches". 

"It's not fair to the children, they don't understand what is happening and they view it as bullying, I believe, and it needs to end," Holt said. 

Holt recalls a per-kindergartner having her hot lunch tray taken away and knew he had to do something. He went home that day and organized a Change.org petition, last year.

"I think it was in January when I saw the post by Representative Helen Giddings that she was pushing bill HB 2159," Holt said. "I was overjoyed, I shared it on my Change.org petition site. I had to get behind that, that is an awesome bill. "

House Bill 2159 would amend the current law and require all school districts to have a two week grace period to bring accounts up-to-date. Holt believes it should be even longer.

"Let the child continue to eat, continue to bill me, don't give me a free meal, I'll pay the bill but give me time to do it, up to two months to respond to whatever life happens to throw at me, I think two months are a lot more fair than two weeks," Holt said. 
During the grace period, the child would continue to receive a hot meal instead of the Sunbutter and jelly sandwich. This measure would impact LISD in two ways, the school district would be required to serve a hot meal instead of the current alternative and parents would be notified via a formal procedure about the outstanding balance.
"We send out letters every time the balance gets negative for a child, a lot of times it's just tri-folded and distributed to the student," Johnson said. "Especially in elementary school, it's distibuted to their folders in the classroom, there is a little more privacy about those being sealed in an envelope that we would have to adjust for."

HB 2159 is currently pending in the Public Education Committee. 

"New Mexico already passed legislation outlawing or banning of school lunch shaming, Texas we don't need to be the last state," Holt said. 
If Texas lawmakers pass this legislation, it will be the second state to end "lunch shaming."

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