“As a mother I sure wouldn’t want that happening to my kids,” said Governor Gina Raimondo when this reporter explained to her the concept of lunch shaming. Several Rhode Island school districts serve cold cheese sandwiches in lieu of a hot lunch if their parents miss payments for the meal (here and here).
“We shouldn’t be singling kids out,” Raimondo said. “We want schools to be places of safety and security and good learning environments and there’s really no place to single kids out and make them feel bad because they don’t have a lot of money.
Despite widespread local media coverage of lunch shaming last week, Raimondo was unfamiliar with the growing phenomenon known as lunch shaming when asked about it today. The governor appeared surprised to learn some school districts in Rhode Island have either a policy or a practice of serving students cold cheese sandwiches if their parents have a delinquent school lunch bill.
“You don’t want kids to feel ashamed,” she said, “they’re not going to be able to learn well that way.”
- Part 1: Suburbs say let them eat cheese sandwiches
- Part 2: Urban schools and cheese sandwiches
- Legislation would end lunch-shaming ‘cheese sandwich’ policy, maybe much more
Raimondo isn’t inclined to ask the state Department of Education to issue a statewide mandate to all school districts, and wasn’t familiar with a new bill that would end lunch shaming by making all school lunches free.
“I’m generally reluctant to pass statewide mandates on things related to education,” Raimondo said. “You want to have freedom at the school level. I think districts should figure this out on a local level and I think they should be doing everything they can to make school an environment where all children feel welcome regardless of their income level and where kids feel like school is a safe and happy place to learn.”
RIDE shares the governor’s belief that local school districts should set their own policies. “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 February email to local school districts, RIDE did recommend against the cheese sandwich policy.
“Alternate meals may not be the best option when dealing with unpaid meal balances as they put an unfair burden on the student and often overtly identify ‘full pay’ students,” wrote RIDE’s Child Nutrition Program specialist Jessica Patrolia. “Districts should seek input from all involved stakeholders (parents, principals, cafeteria staff, etc.) to ensure that all viable options have been explored when crafting or revising a policy. This will result in additional ‘buy-in’ for the implementation of the agreed upon process and will ensure that a diversity of experiences and opinions are taken into account when crafting a policy for handling unpaid meals.”
All school districts in the nation must have a policy in place for dealing with lunch debt by July 1 as part of the Obama Administration’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. It’s unclear how many Rhode Island districts have policies or are working to adopt them. “Since this is a new requirement, RIDE has not collected policies from all districts, and we don’t collect data on delinquencies in the district,” said state Department of Education spokeswoman Megan Geoghegan.
Other states are taking a more hands-on approach to lunch shaming. Last week New Mexico passed the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights. California, Texas and other states are considering similar bills that would outlaw lunch shaming. In Rhode Island, Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, a Providence teacher, recently sponsored a bill to make all school lunches free.