A new bill seeks to outlaw lunch shaming policies in Rhode Island public school cafeterias by mandating “Type A” lunches for all students.
The way it’s written, it could also make school lunch free to all students.
“It’s a very simple solution,” said the bill’s lead sponsor Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, of Providence, “provide a hot meal to every child who comes to school, regardless of their zip code or their family’s ability to pay.”
The bill would amend an existing state law related to school lunch funding that reads: “All public elementary and secondary schools shall be required to make type A lunches available to students attending those schools in accordance with rules and regulations adopted from time to time by the department of elementary and secondary education. To the extent that federal, state, and other funds are available, free and reduced price type A lunches shall be provided to all students from families that meet the current specific criteria established by federal and state regulations.” The bill eliminates the phrase, “from families that meet the current specific criteria established by federal and state regulations.”
This language would seem to make all school lunches in Rhode Island free for all students. “The way we interpret this bill, it could make all school lunches free,” said House spokesman Larry Berman.
Ranglin-Vassell, a Providence school teacher, could not immediately be reached for comment about the scope of the legislation. The bill was posted either last night or this morning. New Mexico, which recently made national news for banning lunch shaming, did so by passing the Hunger Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act.
“I think that it’s a shame that we’re even having a conversation about feeding our children,” Ranglin-Vassell said in a statement to this reporter last night, before the bill was posted.
The late-in the-session legislation was a response to school district policies across the state – from East Greenwich to Pawtucket – that deny students hot lunch because their parents owe money. It’s become known as the “cheese sandwich policy” after two revealing stories from RI Future.
“Food shaming is about singling out kids for unfair treatment and it’s about stereotyping;but it’s also about kids not going to the cafeteria so they remain hungry for the entire school day,” said Ranglin-Vassell. “Hungry kids cannot learn,they just can’t. I’ve said it repeatedly, to grow this economy, we must invest in our children, that’s making sure that children have food to eat, and a classroom that is clean, warm and dry.”
The bill is co-sponsored by representatives Mia Ackerman, of Cranston, John Lombardi and Ray Hull, of Providence, and Bobby Nardolillo, a Republican from Coventry.
There’s no Senate version of this bill. In a joint statement Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Education Chairwoman Hannah Gallo, said, “If legislation is introduced in the Senate, the Education Committee will work with all parties involved, including parents, the Department of Education, and school districts, to examine current policies in the districts, available options, and the fiscal impact of any proposal.”
According to a USDA primer on the National School Lunch Program, there is a significant nutritional difference between Type A and Type B lunches.
“The Type B pattern was devised to provide a supplementary lunch in schools where adequate facilities for the preparation of a Type A lunch could not be provided,” according to the USDA. “Type A lunch was designed to meet one-third to one-half of the minimum daily nutritional requirements of a child 10 to 12 years of age.”
The state Department of Education has recommended against school districts using the cheese sandwich policy, but has maintained that school lunch policies are best set at the local level.
“School lunch policies have historically been under the purview of districts, and we think it’s important that schools and communities continue to have conversations about solutions that work for their students and families,” said RIDE spokesman Meg Geoghegan in a statement this morning. “Regardless of whether the policy is set at the district level or through state law, we want our schools to carefully consider any potential impact on the student, and to take an inclusive and compassionate approach so all children feel supported.”