OLYMPIA—Yesterday, the House of Representatives approved legislation to ban school lunch shaming and ensure access to healthy meals for Washington’s students. House Bill 2610, also known as the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights, passed the House on a vote of 59-39.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, comes in response to reports of students across the state being publicly identified or stigmatized for not being able to pay for a school meal, a practice known as “lunch shaming”.
Lunch shaming occurs when students are singled out in the cafeteria for not being able to pay for their meal or having an outstanding meal debt. This includes students receiving a cheap alternative meal with no nutritional requirements, sometimes in a paper bag distinguishing it from the meals served to other students. There are also reports of students having their meals taken away and thrown out when it is discovered they cannot pay or being sent home with conspicuous debt reminders, such as hand stamps.
“Children should not go hungry or be humiliated because they cannot afford lunch that day,” said Peterson. “We have the opportunity to make sure that our school districts are not stigmatizing kids and that our state’s students are getting the nutrition they need to succeed in school.”
In addition to prohibiting lunch shaming, the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights requires schools to provide healthy, balanced meals to students, regardless of their ability to pay. School districts are also instructed to communicate directly with parents or guardians about school meal debt, rather than putting the responsibility on the child.
The bill also calls for school districts to work with parents to ensure eligible students are enrolled in the free and reduced price meal programs. It also requires that schools and school districts improve their systems to identify homeless students, students in foster care, runaway students, and migrant students to ensure they have proper access to free school meals.
House Bill 2610 now heads to the Senate for further consideration.