Lunch shaming raises concern for lawmakers

By Seth Fleming and Bryan Wells
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS—When Amy Austin heard about children being lunch shamed and embarrassed at school when they didn’t have enough money in their lunch accounts, she created a discretionary fund to help them.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture guidelines said no because regulations didn’t allow that.

Austin appeared before the state House Education Committee in support of House Concurrent Resolution 3, which would have a committee look at having schools find another way to identify children who don’t have enough money in their accounts to pay for lunch.

Austin described how children in some schools go through the lunch line, pick out their meals and then discover at checkout that there isn’t enough money to pay for the food.

Amy Austin testifies in front of the Education Committee. Photo by Bryan Wells, TheStatehouseFile.com

“At that moment, if it is negative, that’s when they take away the lunch they’ve chosen and throw it in the garbage and give them an alternate lunch,” she said.

Austin, a mother of two, serves as the Parent Council secretary at Happy Hollow Elementary School in West Lafayette—the same school her two daughters attend.

Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, asked Austin how much a lunch costs.

“Roughly $2.45, I think it might have gone up to $2.75 this year, but it is not over $3,” Austin said.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said he was concerned with the current school policies for children whose lunch balance is negative, especially regarding food waste.

“I am certain there are probably cases across the state where parents who have the resources are not paying those,” Behning said, adding that he wants to better understand school policies. He said he found it troubling that the lunches would be thrown away.

“Actually, you’re increasing the cost to the school opposed to minimizing it, so that really kind of is an unbelievable policy,” Behning said. “I cannot believe schools would move on with that.”

Emily Weikert Bryant testifies early Thursday morning in front of the Education Committee. Photo by Bryan Wells, TheStatehouseFile.com

Emily Weikert Bryant, executive director of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, also expressed concern with schools’ current policies surrounding free and reduced meals during Thursday’s hearing.

“We know that if there is a policy in place, not everybody who works for the school district may be aware of it or schools may handle it differently,” she said. “We hear a lot of terrible things about lunch-shaming. It is within schools’ rights to give them a different lunch. It is the school’s right to stigmatize them.”

In response, Behning challenged Mike Brown, legislative affairs director for the Department of Education, to investigate the DOE’s lunch shaming policies and provide lawmakers with data.

Seth Fleming and Bryan Wells are reporters for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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