AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – The Amherst-Pelham regional school district has approved a new policy to prevent students from going hungry, or feeling embarrassed when they can’t afford a school lunch.

It’s called “lunch shaming,” an old practice that punishes students who owe money on their school lunch accounts. School districts across the country have collected the debt in embarrassing ways, from singling out a student in front of classmates, to forced labor, having them clear lunch tables after school.

Amherst-Pelham Regional School District Superintendent Michael Morris told 22News, “Finances shouldn’t influence the student experience, whether it’s in the cafeteria, or in the classroom, or on the athletic field.”

Amherst-Pelham schools charge $3.00 per meal. Those on lunch assistance pay $0.40. Superintendent Morris said some weeks, families can’t even make the discounted payments. Back in 2015, the district approved a policy that gave a cheese sandwich and fruit to kids who couldn’t pay.

The problem, it was never put in place. The implementation was delayed while the school committee worked to decide best practices.

The new policy is straightforward: every student will receive a regular lunch every single day, no matter what their overdue balance is. If a student’s in debt for lunch, email notices will be sent to the parents. The student will never be directly approached.

“Food is a right,” says Morris, “and our students deserve to eat, regardless of the payment piece. We’re going to make sure that that happens, and that there’s not a penalty for students.”

Each school works with families who need financial assistance to create individualized payment plans. There’s about $50,000 in outstanding lunch debt across the district from the last several years.

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