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Putting a stop to ‘school lunch shaming’ in Texas

HELEN GIDDINGS | 5/8/2017, 10:56 a.m.
Throughout my 21 years in the Texas Legislature, I have fought hard to address the needs of my constituents in ...
State Rep. Helen Giddings speaks at the UNT Dallas Collage of Law Feb. 17 about upcoming legislation that deals with judicial clemency and licensing restrictions for former offenders re-entering the workforce. Mike McGee

Texas House of Representatives

Throughout my 21 years in the Texas Legislature, I have fought hard to address the needs of my constituents in Dallas. While there are a number of issues that keep me awake at night, providing students with the tools they need to succeed remains my top priority. Our future leaders deserve our time and focus as we prepare them to tackle the issues of today and tomorrow, and I am proud to continue this effort by authoring HB 2159.

As it stands, there are thousands of students across our state who go without food when their lunch accounts go empty. HB 2159 seeks to solve this problem by requiring all districts to have a two-week grace period to replenish their lunch accounts, and during that period, continuing to allow students to select a hot lunch of their choice.

It is also true that our districts currently place the parents’ financial burdens on the students. It is unreasonable to deny a child a nutritious meal because their parents cannot afford to immediately replenish their accounts. Financial matters should be left to the adults, and should never result in a hungry and embarrassed child. HB 2159 will fix this issue by requiring districts to make at least three attempts to notify the parent of the situation and provide assistance with an application for free/reduced lunch. If the school is unable to be reimbursed by the end of the school year, the district can pay the negative balance on the student’s meal card using private donations from local citizens that will be maintained in a separate district account.

Studies have shown that a student’s mental and physical health play a defining role in their scholastic success. Not only is a hungry child unable to obtain and process information at the same rate as their peers, they are often shamed by the fact that they have no food to eat. Some districts have a one-meal policy that gives students one meal after their accounts are exhausted, but their food usually consists of a cold sandwich or, in some cases, nothing at all.

Even if a student is given a cold sack lunch, it can be extremely embarrassing and upsetting for a child to have their lunch taken away only to be replaced with a brown bag lunch. When students are embarrassed, their mental health takes a toll as they walk around with a grumbling stomach reminding them of the fact that they cannot afford to eat. It deteriorates their confidence in themselves, and that inferiority complex can hurt academic success.

As legislators, as parents, and as adults responsible for equipping the next generation of leaders, we cannot stand idly by as our children go hungry. As a state, we are capable of feeding our children despite their life circumstances, and I will continue to advocate until no student goes hungry or is left embarrassed. Let us leave finances to the adults and keep our kids focused on actualizing their wildest dreams.

Helen Giddings represents District 109 which includes Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Lancaster, Wilmer, Hutchins and portions of Glenn Heights and Oak Cliff. For more information, call 512-463-0953.