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Governor calls for ban on ‘lunch shaming’

WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to ban so-called 'lunch shaming' across New York State.  He issued a five-point-proposal ahead of next week's State of the State address.  WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says much of what he's proposing is already at work in the Buffalo Public School District.

The Governor's "No Student Goes Hungry" program proposes to end hunger issues in schools from Kindergarten to college.

This comprehensive program proposes to expand free breakfast, extend funding to expand the Farm to School program, increase the use of farm-fresh and locally grown foods at schools and put an end to 'lunch shaming.'  

At some schools students who can't afford lunch are forced to wear a bracelet or sticker and then given a lesser quality lunch.

"You know I think the Governor's plan is a helpful one because I do think there are districts out there that can't afford to pay for those meals,” responded Bridget O'Brien Wood, director of Food Service for the Buffalo Schools.

The district provides free meals to all students. Prior to the its implementation of the USDA's Community Eligibility provision the school board was paying for student meals for a few years to make sure students wouldn't be without a lunch.

Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley
Bridget O'Brien Wood, director of Food Service for the Buffalo Schools.

“We definitely see the hunger issue right here in our city, so we know that these children and families are counting on this financially to be able to offset their food budget with the meals they are getting at school, so that really is helpful on a lot of different levels and, again, in our district 76-percent of families qualify for a free meal,” O’Brien Wood said.

Cuomo is also proposing a plan to require schools to offer breakfast “After the Bell”. This would provide more flexibility instead of serving it in a limited time frame. 

“We’re trying to work with the high schools at this point because our district has scheduling issues and the way the high schools work is different from the elementary, so we’re trying to roll out with three high schools right now Breakfast “After the Bell” and we have a grant we are working on to do that,” O’Brien Wood explained.

The Governor’s proposed ban on lunch shaming, if approved, would prevent any humiliation to student and by next school year require they receive the same lunch as paying students.

Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley
In 2016 students at School 81 enjoyed a new salad bar.

“You know the USDA program is set up to just provide meals to those who truly qualify for them, so it puts people in a bad situation to say no, but if you’re going to run a program with integrity, then you have to be able to implement those regulations the way the USDA wants you to, so it has put school district’s in sort of a corner in how to deal with that,” O’Brien Wood remarked. 

The city school district also provides some after school meal.

Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley
Food items Milligan's Food Pantry at Buffalo State to deal with hunger on campus.

The Governor also wants first in the national to require food pantries at all state college campuses. Buffalo State already has an established food pantry

O'Brien Wood said making sure students receive nourishment will help them do better academically.

Here is a rundown of the Governor's five-point-proposal ahead of his January 3 State of the State address in Albany:

Ban Lunch Shaming Statewide

Lunch shaming is a disgraceful practice in some schools where children are publicly humiliated in front of their peers by adults for not having money for lunch. In many cases, these students are forced to wear a sticker or bracelet, or have their name called over the loud speaker. In other cases, these students are given alternative, lesser quality lunches, such as a cold cheese sandwich when other students get hot lunches. Other national news reports have reported children simply being denied food if they cannot pay. 

The Governor will propose a law that when passed, would immediately end the practice of lunch shaming of any kind. First, it will prohibit any public act to humiliate a student who cannot afford lunch. Second, it will ban alternative lunches and require students to receive the same lunch as others starting in the 2018-19 school year.  

Require Breakfast "After the Bell"

High-need schools in New York are required to offer breakfast, but current law allows flexibility when it is offered. Therefore, many offer meals in only a limited time frame, which may be before buses arrive, making it inaccessible for many students.

In order to allow students to have breakfast and to prevent them from going hungry during morning classes, Governor Cuomo will propose requiring schools with more than 70 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch to provide breakfast after the school day has begun for the next school year. In successful breakfast after the bell programs, schools can either serve breakfast in the classroom, or offer nutritious vending machines options to ensure that students have access to breakfast as they start their day. In the city of Newburgh, where Breakfast After the Bell was implemented during the 2015-16 school year, schools have seen their breakfast participation rates increase by more than 100 percent.

To ease the transition, the state will provide technical assistance and capital funds for equipment such as coolers and vending machines to support breakfast after the bell. An estimated $7 million in capital funds will support expanded breakfast for 1,400 schools.

Expand the Farm to School Program

New York will double the state's investment in the Farm to School program to support the use of healthy, local, New York foods in school districts across the state. The Farm to School program was created to connect schools with local farmers and offers technical assistance and capacity in the school to source products locally to help schools provide students with nutritious meals from food produced by local farms. Previous rounds of funding for this program have increased access to healthy, farm-fresh food for 324,000 students. This funding can be used for capital costs to support transporting and storing locally produced food, and to hire farm-to-school coordinators and trainings for crops and food preparation.

Governor Cuomo proposes doubling the state's investment to add an $750,000 for a total of $1.5 million in Farm to School projects. If passed, the program would serve an estimated total of 18 projects and 328,000 additional students, bringing the estimated total number of students served to 652,000.

Increase the Use of Farm-Fresh, Locally Grown Foods at School

Lack of healthy, nutritious food can impair a child's ability to concentrate and perform well in school. It is also often linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems for children in preschool through adolescence, according to American Academy of Pediatrics. Therefore, incorporation of nutritious, locally grown foods supports healthy eating habits and is critical to the development of children. However, for a variety of reasons, including cost, many school districts are not offering healthier locally-sourced options.

To incentivize school districts to use more local farm-fresh products, Governor Cuomo will propose an increase in the reimbursement schools receive for lunches from the current 5.9 cents per meal to 25 cents per meals for any district that purchases at least 30 percent ingredients from New York farms. This is a win-win for students as well as New York's local farms. 

Require Food Pantries on All SUNY and CUNY Campuses

Hunger on Campus, a report and survey done by several national campus organizations, found that 48 percent of survey respondents experienced food insecurity in the last 30 days. The same report also found that 55 percent of the respondents with food insecurity did not buy a textbookTo ensure consistent healthy food options are available to young adults on college campuses, the Governor will require all SUNY and CUNY schools to either provide physical food pantries on campus, or enable students to receive food through a separate arrangement that is stigma-free. The Governor proposes a $1 million state investment for schools to implement the program.

In 2009, fewer than 10 campus food pantries existed at private and state colleges nationwide, and as of 2017, more than 570 currently exist. Only about half of all SUNY and CUNY campuses have food pantries currently in place. If a campus offers students access to quality, affordable food options through an arrangement with an outside food bank, delivery and distribution must be included.

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