State lawmakers in Maine approved a bill on Thursday meant to end “food shaming” students who cannot afford to pay for meals at school.
The bill forbids public schools to identify or in any way stigmatize a student who either cannot pay for a school meal or owes money for previous meals. It bans the school officials from refusing to provide meals to students as a form of discipline or forcing pupils to throw away their food or perform chores as punishment for not having enough money to pay for meals.
The legislation also says school officials must communicate with a parent or guardian about a student’s meal debts, rather than directly with a pupil.
The bill heads to Gov. Janet Mills (D) for her signature into law.
One of the bill’s co-sponsors, state Rep. Janice Dodge (D), told The Portland Press Herald that some Maine schools, in cases where a student lacked enough money in their lunch accounts, had withheld hot meals, posted public lists of delinquent accounts, stamped students’ hands or offered lower quality meals, like an apple.
State Sen. Marianne Moore (R), who also co-sponsored the bill, told The Associated Press it represented a bipartisan effort to stop schools acting like “bill collectors” toward hungry children.