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Cracking Down on 'Lunch Shaming' Comes with a Cost for Schools

by on February 12, 2018 5:00 AM

This video is produced by and for Centre County Report and shared through a partnership with StateCollege.com.

Katie Litwin reports.

Pennsylvania schools are implementing new statewide policies to eliminate "lunch shaming," when students who don't have enough money for lunch are singled out.

"It's a situation where a student doesn't have enough money to pay for their lunch and the transaction is handled in some way that leaves the student feeling bad," said Megan Schaper, State College Area School District food services director.

Susan Hawthorne, executive director Central Pennsylvania Community Action, an organization that helps lower-income families, said lunch shaming can be damaging to kids who are singled out because they can't afford lunch.

"It's very detrimental to a child. 'What's wrong with me?'" Hawthorne said.

An amendment to the Pennsylvania School Code now requires all students receive the same lunch, that no student be singled out and that staff cannot tell a student directly that they owe money. All communication about lunch accounts must be 

"Being able to tell a high school student, 'Don't forget to tell mom and dad you need lunch money tomorrow,' that is being defined as shaming by the current legislation," Schaper said.

That aspect is putting a strain school district food budgets. Schaper said State College Area previously would end the school year with about $1,000 of debt from unpaid lunches, but now it's expected to be much higher. The biggest challenge is keeping up with busy parents to let them know their children's lunch account balances are low.

"We are making phone calls to more than 50 families every week to let them know that they have more than $10 worth of IOUs," Schaper said.

"We, just like you at home, have to pay our bills every month. We have to buy the food that we feed to the children, we have to pay our staff. So to have tens of thousands of dollars worth of IOUs really can be very problematic."

School districts statewide are dealing with the same issue. Susquenita School District, for example, also expects the cost to the district to be in the tens of thousands of dollars annually, according to PennLive.



The Centre County Report is produced by students and faculty from Penn State's College of Communications. It is designed to serve a dual purpose. It is a source of news and information to the residents of Centre County.
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