There has been a national conversation about “lunch shaming” in schools over the last several years. In East Penn, the policy has long been that students without money for lunch were given a cold cheese sandwich. In many of our cafeterias, kids without lunch money were actually first given a full lunch, then later in line it was taken away from them, thrown away, and replaced with the cheese sandwich.
This process doubly humiliated some of our most vulnerable students. It shamed them first by pointing them out to everyone through the ‘special’ cheese sandwich lunch (does anyone remember back to the high school reading The Scarlet Letter?). But throwing away a perfectly good meal and replacing it with this basic lunch compounded this humiliation. What values are communicated to a child who sees that our community would prefer to dump a meal in the garbage rather than let them eat it without money in hand? The process was unacceptable.
Fortunately, the district administration and school board recognized the problem. Last July we changed our school lunch policy so that no child is denied a regular lunch in school. The district will instead seek to collect debt for unpaid lunches directly from parents, outside the public gaze of the school cafeteria.
The state legislature recently approved new laws that prohibit lunch shaming throughout Pennsylvania. I’m proud to be part of a district that was able to solve this problem without the new mandates handed down from Harrisburg. The issue is also a good example of how the seemingly dry and boring process of revising and updating the school district’s policy manual in fact has a direct, measurable impact on the quality of our schools. No student in East Penn should be shamed, taunted, or publicly humiliated because their parents can’t afford to pay for lunch. I hope our new policy ensures that no longer happens.