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Calif. bans alternative meals for kids with lunchroom debts

The measure is aimed at ending lunch shaming.
Photograph: Shutterstock

In a move aimed at ending lunch shaming, California has enacted legislation that prevents children with unpaid lunch charges from being limited to cut-rate alternative meals until their debts are settled.

The bill signed into law this weekend by Gov. Gavin Newsom applies to all school districts and county education offices within the state. Charter schools that provide free or reduced-price meals are also obligated to offer the same food to all students regardless of their account status.

In signing the bill, Newsom acknowledged that he was influenced by a 9-year-old who saved his allowance for six months to pay off the $74.80 that fellow third-graders owed on their lunch accounts at West Park Elementary School in Napa, Calif. The boy, Ryan Kyote, had been upset by seeing his classmates stigmatized because their parents and guardians could not afford to pay for reduced-rate lunches. Because the kids had run up debts, they were served alternative meals believed to be of lower cost.

“I want to thank Ryan for his empathy and his courage in bringing awareness to this important issue,” Newsom said in a statement.

The anti-shaming legislation was among a large number of bills Newsom signed to change school policies within the state. Among the more controversial measures was a requirement that middle schools not begin the school day before 8 a.m., and that high schools observe a start time no earlier than 8:30. The measure is intended to ensure that students get enough sleep.

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