Legislation prohibits ‘shaming’ of students

The American Press

You would think the state Legislature wouldn’t have to prohibit the “shaming” of students who are unable to pay for their meals. Children, particularly those in the lower grades, aren’t responsible for paying for their lunches.

Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge and sponsor of the legislation, said in 2017 officials at 20 schools denied 423 lunches to students. Parents are responsible and that is where the solutions have to be found.

The Advocate said officials familiar with the issue said the language in the bill was taken from model bills in other states and doesn’t mean sanctions are widespread in Louisiana.

The Smith measure also prohibits school authorities from taking actions against students that include publicly identifying them with wristbands or other markers, scolding them in any way for being unable to pay, requiring them to do chores for meals, forcing them to throw away alternative meals after being served or withholding school privileges.

Jeanie Donovan, policy director for the Louisiana Budget Project (LPB), said the legislation shouldn’t cause significant debt because the issue is not rampant across the state. LPB advocates for low- and moderate-income families. Donovan said schools should be able to get some reimbursement from the federal government for alternative meals given to students.

The legislation says schools should refer parents with debts to the state Department of Children and Family Services. Smith said the state Office of Debt Recovery is also willing to look into working with school districts to help them collect the money.

House Bill 284 would require the state Department of Education to work with schools and school districts that are eligible and interested in participating in the federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). The CEP allows certain schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to enrolled students without collecting individual free and reduced lunch applications.

The Times-Picayune said a fiscal note attached to the bill says schools that do not participate in CEP will be required to provide meals for students regardless of their ability to pay.

How sad it is that laws have to be enacted to handle a situation that responsible adults should be able to handle on their own. 

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