A Primer on “Lunch Shaming” in Colorado Schools

Recently throughout the country an archaic policy has entered the forefront of the education and food systems lexicon riding a wave of concern and anger. This policy goes by the name of lunch shaming. For those unaware, lunch shaming is the system that many school districts throughout the country utilize when a student does not have the funds to pay for their daily lunch.

The shaming aspect of these specific policies occur through various means, including but not limited to putting a bracelet on the students wrist, stamping their hand, and even outright throwing the hot meal away in front of the student and their peers when payment is not secured. Then the student is given a cold meal, such as a cheese sandwich and crackers.

Fortunately, as word of these policies spread, so to have the efforts to repeal them with more compassionate and nutritious alternatives. In April, New Mexico became the first state to outlaw the practice as their state legislature passed The Hunger Free Students Bill of Rights Act. The bill makes it illegal for a school to stigmatize any student who cannot pay for their lunch, which means no more bracelets and stamps, and prevents schools from throwing any hot meals given out into the garbage. Furthermore the bill requires that schools make at least two attempts to contact the students’ parents to fill out a free and reduced lunch application form. It also requires that schools be there to provide assistance with filling out said forms. The goal is to correct the problem between schools and adults and not punish children.

Senators in California recently introduced a bill similar to the one in New Mexico that is currently going through their legislative process. LiveWell is carefully monitoring its progress. Anti-lunch shaming legislation has also been recently introduced at the federal level and is currently waiting for committee hearing.

Colorado is not without its own issues regarding lunch shaming, both good and bad. Denver Public Schools just recently announced that they will be abolishing all student lunch debt for the upcoming school year thanks to donations from nonprofits and the local community. Unfortunately, other districts still utilize the practice of identifying students who cannot pay and offering different, often, less nutritious meals. LiveWell Colorado continues to work towards ensuring that all students at all schools are able to obtain healthy meals that will allow them to succeed in and out of the classroom away from any stigma.