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Legislation roundup: STEM school, later school start, ‘meal shaming,’ budget reserves; what passed and what didn’t

In the final hours of the California legislative session, there was lots of drama without passage of bills to mandate a later start to middle and high schools and create a state STEM school in Los Angeles. There was success without drama for bills to end “meal shaming” of children without money for school lunches and to let districts keep more money in their budget reserves. Those were among the important education bills that lawmakers acted on — or put off till next year. What follows are a recap of other bills that EdSource followed.

Ending meal shaming: Passed
Students in California whose families owe money for school lunches will no longer be given only a snack — a cheese stick, an apple and a glass of milk — or nothing at all, until they’re all paid up. They’ll get the same meal as all the other students, under a bill the Legislature passed last week.

With the unanimous passage of SB 250, by Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, California will join a movement not to hold children hostage for the debts of their parents. The bill will also end “meal shaming,” the practice used in some districts across the nation of verbally reprimanding students in the lunch line or stamping children’s hands as a reminder to their parents they owe money.

A survey by the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which supported Hertzberg’s bill, found that many districts didn’t post their policies for students in arrears. Of those that did, several dozen served less than a fully nutritional meal. Torrance Unified, for example, provides “a snack consisting of crackers, a milk and fruit/veggies when a middle or high school student reaches a $0 balance.” The policies only apply to students whose families don’t qualify for federal meal subsidies.

Seeing legislation coming, this year Elk Grove Unified ended its policy of giving kids in debt only a cheese sandwich. Michelle Drake, director of Food and Nutrition Services for the district, told the Sacramento Bee that food service workers encouraged the switch. “It’s just not good for our children and it’s difficult on the staff. The last thing they want to see is a 3rd-grader and 4th-grader with that look on their face. We have changed it up for this school year.”

The bill specifically says that districts are not required indefinitely to give parents a pass on not paying. Instead it requires that districts do all they can to enroll families in the subsidized school lunch program and notify families  — not bill collectors — of unpaid balances as soon as they are 10 days behind.

The state PTA and the California Teachers Association were among organizations backing the bill. There were no registered opponents.

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