NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A new bill going before Tennessee state lawmakers would prohibit public schools from identifying or stigmatizing students who can’t pay for a meal.
The “Tennessee Anti-Lunch Shaming Act” or HB 1589 was filed by Rep. John Ray Clemmons. It aims to keep schools across the state from punishing students with lunch debt. Specifically, it states schools are not allowed to require students with lunch debt to do chores, miss school activities or even graduation. It also requires schools to directly communicate with the student’s parents or guardian about the outstanding debt.
Rep. Clemmons sponsored a similar bill last year.
A spokesperson for Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) says the district does not participate in lunch shaming.
“We never shame a child, we never throw out a lunch, make them have a different lunch, or refuse to give them lunch,” said Sean Braisted. “All children will be able to eat at Metro Nashville Public Schools.”
Braisted said from 2014-2018, a grant program covered the cost of lunch for every Metro Student. However, due to changing demographics, now 29 district schools aren't eligible to participate in the program. As a result, 26 schools have unpaid school lunch balances of more than $200 - with some as high as $10,000.
Braisted said at the end of the year, if a school has an unpaid lunch balance, then it must come up with the money to cover the cost. This can put an additional strain on schools on tight budgets.
In response, the MNPS School Board is encouraging community members to help schools and students pay off lunch debt.
“We want to do everything we can to help them reduce the balance at the end of the year,” said Braisted.
Individuals can donate to schools by sending a check to the address listed on each school’s website with a note that funds are designated to retire student lunch debt for the school.
To view the list of schools with outstanding lunch debt visit: https://www.mnps.org/blog/2020/1/21/student-lunch-program-balances