by Joe Hoffer
In early April 2017, the New Mexico Legislature and Governor adopted into law the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act, or Senate Bill 374. Seemingly not too far behind, the Texas Legislature is considering House Bill (HB) 2159 “Relating to school district grace period policies and the provision of meals to public school students with insufficient balances on prepaid meal cards or meal accounts.” The former recently made national headlines as it brought to the forefront once more the practice of “lunch shaming” by public schools. The latter is yet to make the light of day. However, you may not be aware that on July 8, 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a memorandum requiring that, “no later than July 1, 2017, all SFAs operating NSLP and/or SBP must have a written and clearly communicated meal charge policy in order to ensure a consistent and transparent approach.” To this end, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) further stipulated that, “In developing a meal charge policy, FNS encourages adoption of policies that allow children to receive the nutrition they need to stay focused during the school day, minimize identification of children with insufficient funds to pay for school meals, and maintain the financial integrity of the nonprofit school food service account.”
In addition to its July 8, 2016, memorandum, the USDA issued a memorandum providing guidance on March 23, 2017. Notably, the USDA observed that “there is no Federal requirement for school board approval of the local meal charge policy.” Nonetheless, the USDA observed that “the policy or standard practice must consist of a written document explaining how the [school food authority, or] SFA will handle situations where children…do not have money in their account or in hand to cover the cost of their meal at the time of service.” Thus, although school boards are not required to adopt a formal policy, school administrators should nonetheless develop an administrative policy or procedure that addresses how campus cafeteria personnel are to handle an instance in which a student’s meal account is deficient and the student does not have the money in hand to pay for the meal. Importantly, before your school makes the next headline and becomes the poster child for HB 2159, your policy or procedure should discourage and otherwise prohibit any “lunch shaming” practices and ensure that the student receives a meal.