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Canon-McMillan prohibits lunch shaming

Jamie Martines
| Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, 12:36 p.m.
An elementary student selects an apple while breaking for lunch during summer classes at Jeannette McKee Elementary School on Thursday, June 29, 2017, in Jeannette.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
An elementary student selects an apple while breaking for lunch during summer classes at Jeannette McKee Elementary School on Thursday, June 29, 2017, in Jeannette.

The Canon-McMillan School District in Washington County is rolling out a new policy that will prohibit shaming or publicly identifying students who have outstanding school lunch debt.

School districts across the country — including Canon-McMillan — made headlines over the last year as reports of so-called "lunch shaming" surfaced.

At Canon-McMillan, cafeteria workers were required to serve students who owed more than $25 a cheese sandwich in place of a hot lunch. The district attracted attention after a cafeteria worker posted on Facebook about her decision to resign in light of the policy. Students at other schools had been made to do chores to work off their debt while others had to wear a ribbon or have their hand stamped, indicating that they owed lunch money.

Under the revised Canon-McMillan policy, "students who owe money or do not have money for a school meal will not be publicly identified or stigmatized," according to a statement from the district.

"Put simply, we've removed any direct student-based communication that was once applied to the student regarding unpaid meal charges and now all of our efforts and supports are directed to the parent," Superintendent Michael Daniels said in a statement.

In addition, the new policy makes information about the National School Lunch Program, a federal program that provides free or reduced-price school lunches, easily accessible for parents and guardians. The policy also created easier ways to access nutritional information about school meals and to manage a student's cafeteria account, the statement said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs national school meal subsidy programs and sets nutritional guidelines, mandated last year that districts operating the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program must put policies in writing.

Those policies were supposed to have been put in place as of July. Many local school districts have had such policies in place for years.

Under Pennsylvania law, school districts create their own meal policies.

The state Department of Education provides assistance and resources, in cooperation with federal agencies, to schools that have families struggling to pay for lunch but do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Members of both houses of the General Assembly introduced bills this summer that would prohibit lunch shaming practices. Those bills have since been folded into the proposed 2017-18 school code, which is on hold until the state passes a budget spending plan.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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