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Food Shaming Information - Jul. 11, 2019


Questions & Answers regarding An Act to Prevent Food Shaming in Maine's Public Schools

In an effort to support schools and districts as they align their practices and policies in response to the passing of Public Law 2019, Chapter 54, please see the Question and Answer document and resources, below.

 Food Shaming

    What constitutes food shaming?  The law prevents public schools from:

    denying a reimbursable meal to an otherwise eligible student who requests it;
    requiring a student to throw away their meal after it has been served to them;
    requiring a student to perform chores or work as a means of paying for one or more meals or as punishment for not paying for one or more meals;
    refusing a meal as a form of or as part of a disciplinary action; or
    openly identifying or otherwise stigmatizing a student who cannot pay for a meal or has payments due for a meal.

Grades

    What grade levels are impacted by this new law?

The law applies to all grade levels in a public school that provides students meals eligible for reimbursement under a program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture, therefore any grade enrolled in the public school.  The law does not apply to private schools.

Seniors

    Can schools prohibit seniors from participating in graduation functions/activities if the student has meal debt?
    When Seniors have balances at the end of the year, whether it is for meals, books, or computers, we do not pass out the cap and gown until the balance is paid.  Can we still do that?
    Our district charging policy has been that to receive graduation tickets or their cap and gown, seniors must have their lunch balance cleared up. Additionally, we have withheld open campus privileges or a superintendent’s agreement if there is an outstanding lunch balance. Will this still be allowable?

The law prevents openly identifying or otherwise stigmatizing a student with a meal debt.  If the only reason a student is being prohibited from an activity is because of a meal debt, it would constitute identifying or stigmatizing a student.  If the prohibition is potentially based on one of a list of factors (owed books, uniforms, other debt) including a meal debt, it might not constitute identifying or stigmatizing a student, since there are multiple reasons for which a student is denied.  School administrative units are encouraged to consult with legal counsel about their specific policies.

Communication

    Are the cashiers allowed to tell the students when they are charging or close to charging?

A public school's communications about a student's meal debts (charging) must be made to the parent or guardian of the student rather than to the student directly except that, if a student inquires about that student's meal debt, the school may answer the student's inquiry.  A public school may ask a student to carry to the student's parent or guardian a letter regarding the student's meal debt.  A student with a low balance still has funds on their account and is not in debt, therefore it is allowable to communicate with a student about their low balance.

    Are we allowed to let the children know that they are getting low on their account?

A student with a low balance still has funds on their account and is not in debt, therefore it is allowable to communicate with a student about their low balance.

    Most software schools are using automatically say "Please wait, low balance," when a student uses their PIN. which is identifying the student, where others can hear it. Would that still be acceptable?

A student with a low balance still has funds on their account and is not in debt, therefore it is allowable to communicate with a student about their low balance.

    If a student directly asks about balance information what is our answer? What if they are 18 years old?

If the student inquires about his/her meal debt, the school may answer the student’s inquiry. This applies to a student enrolled at the public school, regardless of age. A student may be asked to deliver a notice to parents/guardians about the debt, but should not be approached unsolicited about the debt.

    Can we post a sign at the register telling students they can ask what their account balance is?

Yes. If the student inquires about their meal debt, the staff may answer their inquiry. Otherwise communication must be made directly to the parent/guardian, regardless of the age of the student.

A La Carte

    Our school policy says that if you owe money you cannot purchase a la carte items and there is no charging of a la carte items.  This policy has helped to keep our lunch debt down some. Are we still going to be able to say no to the extra items if they don't have money?

Yes. This law applies to reimbursable meals only. If your local policy does not allow a student to charge a la carte items, a public school may discreetly notify a student that they do not have funds on their account to purchase the a la carte item(s).

    Charging for ala carte is not allowed so when the student is told that in line in front of other students, is that considered lunch shaming?

No. This law applies to reimbursable meals only. If your local policy does not allow a student to charge a la carte items, a public school may notify a student discreetly that they do not have funds on their account to purchase the a la carte item(s).  Efforts to make this policy known and well publicized should be made to avoid the situation and potential for embarrassment.

Alternate Meals

    Can Schools implement an alternative meal (with all components) until the debt is paid?

No, the student must receive the same reimbursable meal as the other students. Provision of an alternative meal could openly identify or stigmatize a student.

    Our school provides a bag lunch to students with a negative balance before the lunch period so that it looks like a lunch brought from home. Can we keep doing this?

No, the student must receive the same reimbursable meal as the other students.

Outstanding Debt

    What are we to do with the outstanding lunch balances? How do we encourage parents to be responsible?

Public schools should follow their policy or procedure for collecting payments from families. This policy/procedure should be shared publicly so parents are informed of the process.

    Can we send outstanding debts to a collection agency?

Yes.

    What happens when everyone owes and refuses to pay because they know they do not have to, in order to get a meal?

The school nutrition program should make efforts to collect meal payments as identified in their local policy.

    Who will pay for the unpaid balances?

The school nutrition program should make efforts to collect meal payments as identified in their local policy. Once the debt is determined to be uncollectable, such as after a student leaves the district or graduates, it is considered bad debt and is not an allowable expense of the Federal school foodservice program or any other Federal program. The debt would need to be paid by non-Federal funds, such as the general fund and the debt would become the responsibility of the public school at this point.

OTHER

    What is the State’s plan to provide funding for the lunch bills that won't get paid?

The law was identified as an unfunded mandate and passed by a 2/3 vote by the Legislature.  Funding will need to be addressed at the local level.

    Does this apply to all meals, breakfast, lunch and snack?

This law applies to all programs that provide student meals eligible for reimbursement under a program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture. This includes the School Breakfast Program, National School Lunch Program and Afterschool Snack Service.

    Is there guidance available on how to handle unpaid meals?

The law requires the Department of Education to develop guidance for school administrative units relating to the collection of student meal debt, including, but not limited to, best practices and information on how to create an online system for the payment of student meal debt.
The Maine DOE has guidance available online, and  The USDA has guidance and resources available online, including a guide book.