Oregon House approves ban on ‘lunch shaming’

Students at Hermiston's West Park Elementary School are served lunch in this file photo. The Oregon House has passed a bill banning school districts from collection actions that single out kids when their parents don't pay lunch bills.

SALEM — The Oregon House of Representatives has unanimously passed a bill to prohibit school practices that single out pupils whose parents don’t pay their school lunch bills.

The bipartisan bill by House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, and Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, now heads to the Senate.

The two lawmakers proposed the “lunch shaming” ban after seeing widespread media coverage of the phenomenon. Lunch shaming can mean practices or policies that shame, penalize or single out pupils whose parents have failed to settle up or are late in paying for their children’s participation in the school lunch program.

“Collection tactics by having kids singled out is just something we want to nip in the bud,” McLane said.

The state’s largest school district, Portland Public Schools, maintains a policy that allows schools to stamp the hands of pupils whose guardians owe lunch money, or to give a “gentle reminder” to the students.

“The student is singled out and reminded to have their parents pay the bill even to the extent of not allowing the student to eat lunch but giving the student as an alternative meal of milk, fruit and vegetables,” McLane said of the Portland policy. “When you could be having lasagna or something hot, you are singled out, and that is embarrassing.”

The Portland policy prescribes a series of steps to take to remind guardians even before a student’s school meal plan is in the red. The stamp, for instance, can be applied with principal approval when a pupil’s account falls below $13.50, the equivalent of five lunches.

Several other states have passed similar legislation.

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