Baker Signs Vargas Bill Into Law, Ending Pupil Shaming Over Lunch Money Debt

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A bill to end the shaming of students without lunch money, championed by Haverhill Rep. Andy X. Vargas, was signed into law last week by Gov. Charlie Baker.

As WHAV reported in August, Vargas hailed the bill that would prohibit schools from publicly identifying students who owe meals, serving an alternative meal, denying a student a meal as a form of discipline, disposing of an already served meal because of a student’s lack of money or unresolved debt, keeping a student or a sibling from attending or participating in non-fee-based extracurricular activities, field trips or school events solely because of the student’s unresolved meal debt.

“With this bill, we will feed more kids, eliminate meal debt shaming and stigma, and maximize federal resources for schools across the Commonwealth. With the historically high percentage of economically disadvantaged students across the state, it makes sense to lock in this data now, which the federal government recognizes for at least the next four years,” Vargas said in a statement.

The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute was among those celebrating the new legislation that addresses the challenge children and families living in poverty face when it comes to unpaid school meal debt. Baker signed the law called “An Act Promoting Student Nutrition.” Besides Vargas, the legislation was pushed by state Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem.

Institute Executive Director Georgia Katsoulomitis said, “No child should be made to feel uncomfortable at school because their family is unable to afford a school lunch. This new law will ensure that more children have access to free lunches at school and will put limits on how meal debt is collected.”

In 2018, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute reported unpaid school meal policies can become punitive towards children in low-income households.

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