Lawmaker seeks to end ‘school lunch shaming’

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Some call it ‘school lunch shaming.’ It’s when a child’s lunch account falls behind and the student is given an alternative and, as a result, is bullied by other students.

It’s the reason Virginia mother Adele Settle started a fundraiser to help pay off the balances of students in her school district whose payments had fallen behind.

“Feeding children is ultimately the base thing that we have to do to make sure that our kids can learn,” she suggested. “They can’t do well in standardized testing, they can’t do well in athletics, they can do well with their grades if they haven’t had a nutritious meal.”

Settle, who has raised thousands, started the GoFundMe account after discovering students were being given a granola bar and a juice box as an alternative lunch.

“I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t cut it,” Delegate Danica Roem, D-Prince William County, said.

Roem says she was approached by Settle to do something about the issue statewide. So, Roem has introduced a bill that would require school districts to offer regular lunches no matter what.

“Making sure that kids don’t have to have their hands marked or sit in a different part of the lunch room, or have any other ways of separating themselves from their classmates just because they can or they can’t afford a school lunch,” said Roem.

Meanwhile, some school districts in the state have warned parents that unpaid meal debts have increased significantly compared to years past.

“It’s a concern of cost and I get that,” Settle said. “I know that things are expensive and I hear frequently there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Roem says she doesn’t believe costs will get out of control.

“The only people who may take severe advantage of this might be the people who need it the most,” Roem said.

Delegate Danica Roem, D-Prince William County.

We checked with some local school districts on how they deal with debt.

Chesterfield says students unable to pay for their meal can charge their account with the expectation that their parent will pay the debt. They do not offer alternative lunches.

In Henrico County, they allow students up to two lunches if a student’s balance is zero, then offer an alternative lunch but no child has items taken away.

Richmond, meanwhile, offers all students free lunch.

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