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Senator hopes bill will end lunch shaming embarrassment for students

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    ANNAPOLIS, MD (WBAL) — Sitting with friends and eating lunch at school is a fun part of the day for some students. For other kids who are denied food or humiliated because their parents have meal debt, it can be tough to swallow.

“I think it was heartbreaking to hear some of the stories who were, for example, banned from being able to roll in extracurricular activities, maybe not be able to participate in recess, not be able to get the report cards,” said Sen. Clarance Lam.

Lam said he’s heard too many stories like that.

“Even some that were told they had to do cafeteria chores afterwards because they were unable to pay for their school lunches,” Lam said.

Lam introduced Senate Bill 760 which would ban the practice of lunch shaming in Maryland. The bill would require each county’s Board of Education to establish and publicize a protocol for debt collection that would avoid discussing that debt with the child.

“This bill actually directs all the communications about an email that the child has outstanding, actually goes back to the parents,” Lam said.

Parents have had concern about lunch shaming before Lam’s bill was ever introduced. One Baltimore County mother started an online petition to end lunch shaming, citing examples, such as a child who was denied lunch because the account was 3 cents short.

Under the bill, if a school does provide different lunches to students who owe, that meal has to comply with USDA guidelines and must be available schoolwide. Also, the Maryland State Department of Education would be responsible for tracking lunch debt.

School meals debts are an issue. According to an advocacy that studied the issue last year, it varied from district to district, but they found that anywhere from $3,000 to $100,000 was placed on schools that incurred it from students getting their meals.

“The school system has the flexibility to be able to come up with their own policy to recoup those funds, but we are hoping they do not, for example, send parents to debt collectors,” Lam said.

The bill moves on for a hearing next week in the House.

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