Revised policy adopts proposed strategies in anti-lunch shaming legislation before it becomes law; policy lauded by state, non-profit leaders
(Canonsburg, PA) Sept. 15, 2017 Recognizing that students must not be singled out for a debt they have no power to pay, the Canon McMillan School District today announced the rolling out of a revised lunch policy that ensures no child is stigmatized for economic circumstances beyond their control. The policy, approved by the school board in August, revises the district’s previous policy, put in effect last year in response to a federal mandate requiring districts who participated in the free or reduced lunch or breakfast program to enact a meal charge policy that satisfied lunch account debts.
“In schools throughout the nation, including ours, students have been unintentionally stigmatized in ways that are absolutely not okay,” said Superintendent Michael Daniels. “No matter the ability to pay, every single student entering our cafeterias will be offered a hot lunch with no questions asked. While our previous policy followed state and national standards, those standards focused too much on dollars and cents and not enough on common sense. As the leader of this district, I view this situation as a teachable moment not just for myself, but for every employee, parent and community stakeholder: We’re not perfect. Our government isn't perfect. We must question everything and we must admit when we are wrong. The leaders within our school district and board looked within and decided that we can be and must be a leader on this issue. It is our hope more school districts throughout the state and nation will adopt a similar policy."
The revised policy proactively includes the procedures and guidelines proposed in both state and federal anti-lunch shaming bills, which seeks to establish standards for the treatment of children who are unable to pay for a meal.
“Canon Mc-Millan school district leaders have done the prudent thing by becoming the first school district in the state to essentially adopt my anti-lunch shaming legislation before it becomes law," said Pennsylvania State Senator Jay Costa. "Our children are our most valuable resource and we must treat them as such and show respect for the families at home supporting them. I am hopeful that more school districts will do the right thing and follow Canon Mc-Millan’s lead.”
The revised lunch policy also increases communications efforts to ensure parents and guardians who may qualify for the National School Lunch Program are fully aware of the program. In addition, the communication provides supportive ways for families to view cafeteria nutritional information and to manage their child’s cafeteria account. Further, all communication regarding lunch balances will be made directly to a student's parent or guardian.
"Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank commends Canon-McMillan School District for taking a compassionate and progressive stance with their revised policy for addressing student lunch debt,” said Christina Winniewiez, Child Nutrition Outreach Manager for Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. “Children need appropriate nutrition to learn, grow and prosper and this policy will ensure that all children, regardless of economic circumstances, will have access to a hot meal each day."
Students who owe money or do not have money for a school meal will not be publicly identified or stigmatized.
“Put simply, we’ve removed any direct student-based communication that was once applied to the student regarding unpaid meal charges and now all of our efforts and supports are directed to the parent,” said Daniels. “I want to thank the generous citizens throughout the nation for their outpouring of support and concern for the emotional well being of our students.”
Canon-McMillan received many unsolicited donations from people wishing to help pay for student lunches. The district will ensure that parents or guardians on payment plans who need help receive this monetary support.
"This is a difficult and complex issue but we are working together to overcome this challenge to be fair to all of our students and their families," said Canon-McMillan Board President Manuel Pihakis. “The emotional well-being of our students is our top priority, and this initiative supports that principle by giving every child access to the same meal while protecting their privacy.”