Connecticut lawmakers to debate bill prohibiting shaming over school lunch debt

Minyvonne Burke

Connecticut lawmakers will hold a hearing Tuesday to discuss a bill that prohibits shaming over unpaid school lunch bills.

The proposal states that "no local or regional board of education shall publicly identify or stigmatize" a student who owes money for meals by refusing to serve them food, serving them an alternative meal or discriminating against the child.

The bill would apply to public school districts across the state. The General Assembly’s Committee on Children will hold a public hearing on the bill Tuesday afternoon.

In addition to putting an end to lunch shaming, the bill allows school districts to accept philanthropic or private donations to cover the cost of lunch debt.

Rising school lunch debt has been a growing concern for a number of districts in the state, according to The Associated Press. Education officials in Norwalk said last year that they were on track to accrue more debt than in previous years, the outlet reported.

Several districts across the country have come under fire for their handling of students who owe lunch money. In October, the Cherry Hill school district in New Jersey was criticized for proposing a plan to serve tuna sandwiches to students who owed lunch money.

The school board later approved a policy that would ban students who had a debt more than $75 from attending activities such as the prom until the balance is paid in full.

Richfield High School in Minnesota came under fire after cafeteria workers tossed out the hot lunches of nearly 40 students because they had a balance of more than $15. The district released a statement in November apologizing after a video of the incident was posted on social media.

In July, the Wyoming Valley West School District in eastern Pennsylvania was slammed after it sent a letter to a parent demanding they pay their child's lunch debt or risk having their child placed in foster care.

The letter, obtained by NBC affiliate WBRE, stated: "Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without breakfast and/or lunch. This is a failure to provide your child with proper nutrition and you can be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child's right to food."

The letter went on to say that if the parent is taken to court, their child could be removed and placed in foster care. The letter was part of an effort to collect about $20,000 worth of lunch debt districtwide, WBRE reported.

The district later apologized "for the tone of the letter" and accepted a $22,000 donation from a local CEO who offered to pay off the total debt.