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California Schools To Target Parents For School Lunch Debt, Not Kids

U.S. Department of Agriculture / flickr

U.S. Department of Agriculture / flickr

This is part of our series on new California laws taking effect in 2018.

A new California law will put an end to shaming students for unpaid school lunch fees. 

Michele Stillwell-Parvensky knows firsthand about school lunch shaming. When she was a kid in third grade she was denied meals for several days because the cafeteria records showed her mom hadn’t paid the lunch fee.

“I was probably hungry those days," Stillwell-Parvensky said. "But what I remember the most vividly was being very embarrassed, thinking that I had done something wrong but not knowing what it was.”

It turned out to be a misunderstanding.

Today, Stillwell-Parvensky works for the Children’s Defense Fund – California. She helped push for the new law which states that no school official may delay or deny food to punish students for any reason.

“And requires schools to publish their policies for notifying and collecting that debt from the parents,” she said. 

Jessica Bartholow is with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which also pushed for the law. She said the law also requires school districts to help enroll families in the federally subsidized school lunch program. And to notify parents – not bill collectors – about unpaid balances.

"We’re not going to shakedown children anymore for the debt of their parents," Bartholow said.

She said out of 200 California school districts analyzed, only 75 had a policy for dealing with delinquent lunch fees and 35 percent of those schools had policies that either refused kids a meal or shamed them.

 New California Laws 2018

Steve Milne

Morning Edition Anchor & Reporter

Steve is the Morning Edition anchor for Capital Public Radio. He covers stories on a wide range of topics including: business, education, real estate, agriculture and music.  Read Full Bio 

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