School districts throughout Utah are creating new policies to put an end to “lunch shaming” for students who haven’t paid overdue fees.
Back in 2014 there was an incident at Uintah Elementary school in Salt Lake City that got a lot of news attention. Students with outstanding lunch fees had their lunches taken from them and thrown away.
Salt Lake City School District eventually apologized and have since changed their policy, along with many other Utah districts, including Canyons in south Salt Lake county.
“When kids come to the lunchroom and they want something to eat because they’re hungry, we want to err on the side of making sure they have that good food," say Jeff Haney, spokesperson for Canyons School District.
Haney says that the news back in 2014 inspired a new approach from them. They now allow any student to eat lunch regardless of having payment.
When there is an outstanding charge they reach out to the student’s parents on a weekly basis until it’s paid. If they fee rolls into the summer months it's eventually transferred to a collection agency.
“We also want to do a full court press so to speak on making sure the people in the community know how they can apply for free and reduced price lunches," Haney says.
Canyons currently has $36,000 of unpaid lunch fees and it's likely that most of it will never be collected. And Haney says that's okay, the priority is that students are fed.
These procedures are currently being written into a district wide policy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has asked all school districts countrywide to create similar policies to address feeding students with unpaid fees with a proposed deadline of July 1st this year.