School board set to adopt policy banning ‘meal shaming’

Published Nov 5, 2018 at 4:00pm

A new policy that formally prohibits “meal shaming” of students whose families do not have money to pay for lunch is being developed by the Rome school district, in conjunction with a statewide program outlined by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

A first draft of the policy for prohibition against meal shaming was accepted at the Board of Education’s last meeting, and approval will be considered at the board’s next meeting Nov. 15, said school district Superintendent Peter C. Blake.

But Blake also pointed out the district has been “practicing the concept before the governor made it law” earlier this year. He added “we have practiced no meal shaming as a district” as directed by a Rome district school food service program and meal charge policy that was revised last fall; that policy calls for “no distinguishment between children who receive free lunches and those who pay,” and “only the school lunch manager and cafeteria ticket manager will have the knowledge of who is receiving a free lunch.” It does not use the meal shaming term, and Blake explained “the law requires us to have a specific policy titled with meal shaming....”

Cuomo last week announced that all schools in the state have adopted plans to end meal shaming of students who do not have money for lunch. His announcement said schools have submitted plans to the state Education Department to “address how they prohibit meal shaming and how meal debt will be communicated to parents while ensuring every student is still provided a meal without humiliation or shame.”

Cuomo said “students should never be humiliated or denied a well-rounded meal just because they can’t pay.” He cited his “No Student Goes Hungry Program” to “ensure all children get a healthy meal in school even if they don’t have lunch money and provide a supportive learning environment so every student can succeed.”

State education law was amended in Cuomo’s 2018-19 state budget to require all schools that call for students to pay for school meals to ensure that students with unpaid meal charges are not denied a meal or treated differently.

Previously in the Rome district, peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches were made available for students who were not in good standing regarding payments owed for the lunch/cafeteria program that otherwise offers various daily menu

But in the district’s 2018-19 school calendar document, a message from School Lunch Manager Chris Whitmore mentions the school district’s “policy to make sure all children have the chance to eat and to eat what is on the menu.”

He said that if children have exceeded the number of charged lunches allowed, “your child will still receive the regular meal” and reminder messages will be sent to the child’s home about charges that need to be repaid.

Whitmore’s message “was in response to the required law and to the practice that we have followed for over a year,” Blake remarked.

The school district serves about 3,500 lunches daily, with over 50 percent at free or reduced
prices as based on family income levels, according to previous data.