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North Thurston schools lose $21,000 in debt from ‘lunch shaming’ ban

(AP file)

It’s long been said that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but in North Thurston, they have an actual number: $21,000. That’s what it’s costing officials to foot the bill for Washington’s new Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act.

The bill guarantees hot meals for kids whether or not they bring in money. Previously, they were given a cheese sandwich, cereal, or an item from the salad bar, reports KIRO 7.

“This is a terrible thing for kids with bad parents. They send the kids off to school with no money and they stand there in line,” said KIRO Radio’s John Curley. “The way it used to work was, the person would say, ‘Did your parents put any money on the card?’ And the kid says, ‘No.’ Then they kid would get a bad sandwich while all the other kids had normal sandwiches, so the kids felt shamed.”

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That shame led to the creation of the bill. North Thurston officials serve about 10,000 meals a day, and 38 percent of students use the free and reduced priced lunch program, which is covered by state funds. But the “lunch shaming” House Bill 2610 didn’t come with funding, and many of the students racking up the debt aren’t enrolled in the free and reduced priced lunch program. So while parents are supposed to be paying the district back for its use, they’re not.

“I thought of you,” said co-host Tom Tangney, addressing John. “Because you always claim that anybody who can cheat the system will, and I’m constantly fighting this… This is where I thought you might jump in and say, ‘Yeah but how about some parent shaming?’ If they came out with a list that said these are the parents who refuse to pay for their kids’ lunches, and that’s why we’re in debt.”

Curley believes the issue of cheating the system is more widespread than people think, especially when you consider the numbers.

“Just to give you an idea for how many people cheat the system. The poverty rate in the United States is 16 percent,” he said. “Yet 72 percent of school age kids that are attending schools in the United States are either getting free or reduced lunch, so why 72 percent?”

“The reason is because parents realize, ‘I don’t really have to pay, and no one is going to check, without considering those who actually need it.”

With reporting from Shelby Miller, KIRO 7

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