Illinois introduces new ‘lunch shaming’ law for students

Noelle Schwarz, News Editor

A new Illinois law named the “lunch shaming” law allows students to get a lunch whether or not they can afford it. On Aug. 26, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law Senate Bill 2428, the Hunger Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act. This law affects all private and public K-12 schools that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Child Nutrition Program, including Naperville Central.

“Regardless of whether a student can pay for their lunch, we need to make sure that we give students a lunch,” Assistant Principal for Operations Carrie McFadden said. “We can’t give them a different lunch. Our equivalent here would be the combo lunch. Students on the free and reduced lunch program have the same choices for combo lunch as students that are paying for it.”

This bill also aims to end “lunch shaming” where students are specifically called out in some way for not being able to afford a lunch.

“You can’t draw any real attention to the students that can’t pay for their lunch that day [such as] requiring the student to wear a wristband, giving the student a hand stamp, requiring a student to throw away a meal or snack after being served [or] requiring the student to sit in a separate location,” McFadden said. “We don’t do any of those things.”

Central already has a program in place for students who forget or don’t have money to pay for their lunch on a certain day.

“Students that don’t have money-maybe it’s a student that has applied for free and reduced lunch but hasn’t gotten approved yet-can come in and get a voucher,” McFadden said. “They will go and use that at lunch.”

However, the voucher system may go away in the near future.

“[Central] is currently one of the few schools that uses that system,” said Food Service Director for Aramark Nicole Grosh. “I think at some point we’ll be doing away with those because of the new mandate. Given the fact that those vouchers are indicative of no money on the account I could see that being phased out.”

Grosh does not anticipate the new law having a large impact on Aramark or Central.

“[Feeding every student] is a practice within Aramark that we’ve always practiced,” Grosh said. “The impact might be a financial impact to either families or the school district, but as far as I understand the government has set aside funds in the event that school districts get overwhelmed with those financial burdens or the families do as well.”

McFadden encourages students to speak up if they believe the lunch system isn’t working.

“I think it’s working well, but if some students feel like it’s not, [tell us],” McFadden said. “I want to make it so that kids feel okay, that they don’t feel shamed.”