Iowa legislatures look to end school "lunch shaming"

By  | 

DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - The Iowa House has passed a bill that bans schools from publicly identifying students who can't pay for their meals at school. Some schools use the threat of withholding food, and other "lunch shaming" strategy, to get parents to pay off school lunch debt.

Several people in the Davenport school district say they've seen in happening in the past, but now with a bill passed in the house, a nutritionist is concerned about how it will be funded.

"Here at Davenport schools, we try not to do any type of food shaming," said Interim Director of Food and Nutrition Services, Coni Dobbles. The bill also encourages districts to offer students a hot lunch whether or not they can pay. Dobbles says each student who pays for lunch pays $2.50, but they're in debt at the elementary school and pre-school level.

"In our preschools, we're in debt about $1,500 in the elementary school we're in debt about $1,200," she said. Although Davenport Schools is in debt by $2,000 in school lunch debt they're on the lower end of the spectrum, the Muscatine Community School District is $11,000 in the hole.

If passed in the Senate, the legislation would help schools collect school lunch debt by allowing income tax or lottery winnings to be withheld after two years, if $500 or more in lunch debt is owed. Dobbles says that something she could possibly get behind.

"If that's a way to kind of help balance the budget so that all students could eat I would be receptive to that."

But Dobbles says if funds don't come in, they have to make smart decisions on how to keep kids fed going forward. "There needs to be some type of balance between the budget so every kid gets fed," Dobbles said.

In order for the bill to remain viable this session, it moves to the Iowa Senate and has to pass the education committee by tomorrow, March 16th.