The legislature’s education committee is having a public hearing Tuesday on so-called “meal shaming”. Supporters of a new school cafeteria policy hope to prohibit Massachusetts school districts from denying hot lunches to children who don’t have the money to pay.
Stephanie Rosenquist was shocked and angry when her first grade son came home from his Oxford elementary school and told her his breakfast had been taken away from him.
“The cashier realized that he did not have funds available on his account, she took the tray of food out of his hands and threw it in the garbage… So my child went hungry that morning.”
Turns out, Stephanie owed $10.80 on her meal payment plan.
As is the practice of many schools across the state, cafeteria workers at her son’s school are instructed to substitute a cheese or peanut butter sandwich for a hot lunch if parents are behind in payments. But for breakfast there are no substitutions.
Rosenquist said her son was horrified.
"He was very embarrassed. If it happens in front of anyone else that happens to be in the cafeteria, I mean a 6-year-old child doesn’t understand why you’re taking food away from him and throwing it in the trash. That doesn’t make sense."
The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute is working with state lawmakers to stop so-called “meal shaming,“ so that school districts are prohibited from denying a hot lunch to children who don’t have the money or have fallen behind on payments.
Public policy analyst Pat Baker says, “Those kids go back to the classroom hungry, frustrated and not able to learn.”
Rosenquist can’t imagine who wouldn’t support the change in policy.
“You can yell at me. You can send me a nice little letter... but this type of policy, taking away and throwing in the garbage is unacceptable.
Six states have already passed legislation, most recently in New York, to bar these kinds of practices. Proponents say it doesn’t force school districts to give every child a free meal, but it takes the kids out of this debate.