COLUMBUS—On Thursday, State Senator Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) introduced Senate Bill 172, the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act. This bill would direct Ohio schools to work with parents or guardians to help them pay off debts and end all “lunch shaming” practices, which involve treating students differently if their family owes money for school lunches. A 2014 Department of Agriculture report found thatnearly half of all school districts engage in some form of lunch shaming.

“It is disgraceful that some children endure public humiliation due to their inability to pay for school lunches,” said Senator Yuko. “Watching the lunch shaming crisis on national media is unsettling to me not just as a father but as a grandfather, a legislator, and a concerned citizen.” 

The Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act follows recently-passed legislation from New Mexico that directs schools to end lunch shaming, such as providing “cold sandwich” substitutes to warm meals for students who owe money. These practices embarrass children and encourage bullying.

This problem has been documented by numerous news reports. Throughout the country, cafeteria workers have been forced to throw hot meals in the trash in front of children who can’t pay. Others have been allowed to offer only a cold cheese and bread sandwich if a student is in debt. Some schools even berate the children for being unable to pay. Rather than allowing them to eat, cafeteria workers in some schools stamp children’s arms with messages like, “I need lunch money.”

“These students did not choose their circumstances. They should never face public embarrassment for having been born into poverty. Our children deserve better!” said Senator Yuko.

Senate Bill 172 would apply to all public schools, charter and STEM schools, and private schools participating in the national school lunch or breakfast program. It would:

  • Direct schools to reach out to families of students who have meal debt, instead of burdening and stigmatizing the student.
  • Require each district or school to provide meal applications to all parents and guardians, unless the school already provides all students a free lunch.
  • Require schools or districts to submit an application for a free or reduced price lunch for any eligible student who has not applied.
  • Help schools monitor nutrition for homeless students and ensure that all homeless children receive free school meals.
  • Ensure meals regardless of a student’s inability to pay, unless a parent or guardian gives permission to not do so.
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