‘Lunch shaming’ a concern in RI schools

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – At least five school districts in Rhode Island have a policy in place that requires students to receive an alternate meal when their school lunch tabs are past due.

The practice, which critics call “lunch shaming,” is employed in Bristol-Warren, Burrillville, Coventry, East Greenwich and Smithfield, according to an Eyewitness News review of school district policies. Other communities have recently moved away from alternate lunch policies as the issue become a national conversation.

Pawtucket rewrote its lunch policy in June to prohibit alternate lunches from being distributed. Councilman Tim Rudd, who also serves as Providence Police officer, said his stepson was given a cheese sandwich last year when his lunch bill was past due.

“I don’t think they want the children to go hungry,” Rudd said. “But being the type of individual that I am and as a father and as a coach and as a police officer, I want to fix the situation as soon as possible.”

Rudd acknowledged he became interested in the issue when it got personal for his family, but said he wanted to ensure that his constituents didn’t face the same challenges.

“No children should go hungry, no child should go hungry whatsoever,” he said.

Pawtucket Supt. Patti DiCenso said the new policy was in place in time for the new school year.

“Our principals, teachers and support staff have been extremely sensitive and supportive to families regarding alternative lunch service,” she said. “They have been champions to protect our children from feeling uncomfortable about receiving an alternate lunch while they continue to communicate with families to complete lunch forms for eligibility.”

Rhode Island officials aren’t the only ones with an eye on lunch policies. Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who represents the New Haven area, has introduced legislation that would prevent schools from taking action against kids when their lunch bills are past due.

As DeLauro sees it, schools should work with parents rather than “stigmatizing” children. She said schools also need to do a better job making sure that families who are eligible for free or reduced lunch are receiving it.

“It would prohibit public identification or stigmatizing such as marking kids with hand stamps and stickers or making them do chores,” DeLauro said of her bill, which has more than 90 co-sponsors.

The congresswoman said she intends to continue seeking sponsors for the legislation this fall.