Lawmaker says lunch shaming amendment punishes poor families

Posted at 5:25 PM, Feb 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-07 18:38:04-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Anti-Lunch Shaming Act was supposed to protect students from disadvantage families, but the lawmaker behind it says an amendment now effectively punishes poor families.

The legislation would stop schools from punishing students for being unable to pay their lunch debt. It would keep schools from preventing participation in extra-curricular activities or being prevented from graduating.

Representative John Ray Clemmons ( D - Nashville) filed the bill after two failed attempts in previous years. In the K-12 subcommittee this week, several lawmakers had questions that led to a lengthy discussion.

"I don't think there's a failure on the part of our organization as much as we do the homes. We've got a lot of organizations that do go about feeding our children," said Rep. Jerry Sexton (R - Bean Station).

Some questioned whether there were students being punished by schools, like Rep. Clemmons suggested.

Rep. John Ragan, a republican from Oak Ridge and chairman of the committee, proposed an amendment to add possible consequences for parents of children with lunch debt.

"The school now has the opportunity in students that qualify for free and reduced lunch and are not getting it because their parents haven't filled out the paper work," he said. "So, the teeth is they can be referred to investigation for child abuse or neglect. Same thing with those students who are above the line for those qualifications of not paying for it."

"The amendment would require schools to threaten parents that they would be reported to DCS for child abuse or neglect if their child had a meal debt," said representative Clemmons. "I think it's completely inappropriate to threaten to report parents to DCS for being poor or struggling to make ends meet."

The bill passed through the subcommittee with the amendment attached. It now heads to the full education committee where rep. Clemmons said he hopes to have it amended to its original version.