School meal debt lawsuits should be banned in New York
Students order pizza at AA Kingston Middle School in Potsdam, NY Photo: Julie Grant
By John Whittaker, The Jamestown Post-Journal
Legislation to prevent school districts from taking legal action against parents or guardians for unpaid school meal debts is being sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his approval.
Earlier this week, the State Assembly passed A.6527A by a 118-30 vote with Assembly Member Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown voting against the proposal. The accompanying legislation was adopted by the State Senate in early June by 63 votes to 0.
“This bill states that no matter what a family’s income, if they don’t want to pay for their children’s school meals, they can get a free ride,” Goodell said.
“What a horrible message to send to kids that you can ignore the rules and regulations, that you don’t have to pay for the things you buy, use, consume – just blow it up. It’s a horrible message. Of course, everyone in this place knows there is no free lunch. “
New York joined dozens of other states in 2018 in banning meal shame. Beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, all schools that require students to pay for a school breakfast or lunch have had to develop a written plan ensuring that a student whose parent or guardian has a unpaid meals are not humiliated or treated differently from a child. whose parent or guardian has no unpaid school meal expenses.
The 2018 legislation required schools to provide students with the reimbursable meal of their choice and specifically identified other prohibited actions to prevent children from being embarrassed if their parents or guardians had an unpaid school meal debt. Schools were urged to offer parents a repayment option and were prohibited from using a debt collector to collect the money.
MP Karines Reyes, D-Bronx, said since 2018 there have been significant cases nationwide of school districts suing or threatening to bring student families with unpaid meal expenses to the court to collect the costs.
“I just find it ironic that we talk about not paying for food and getting free stuff when we have a lounge a few feet away that provides an endless supply of snacks that we don’t have to pay for and which we’re talking about kids who sometimes the only meal they have is at school, ”Reyes said.
The 2018 bill requires schools to provide for an annual carry-over in the lists of free and reduced school meals each year, provides 30 days of eligibility for free and reduced meals to students who transfer to a school district, and has Pushed school districts to encourage families eligible for free meals and reduced meal programs to use the programs.
Goodell’s opposition was not focused on students on free and reduced meal programs, but rather on students whose families do not qualify for free and reduced meals.
“So what happens when a wealthy family doesn’t pay for their children’s school meals? Goodell asked.
“They’re just ripping off the school. But who they’re really ripping off is all the school taxpayers in this local district. So although the old people and everyone else, the hard-working families who have had to struggling to pay that school tax bill, they have to pay higher taxes in order to cover the costs of the lunches provided to families who can afford but just won’t. That’s the wrong message to send to the kids and that. is the wrong message to send to parents and it is the wrong message to send to taxpayers. “