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Bill aims to prevent students from being denied access to school lunch

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MADISON, Wis. - A state lawmaker says his new proposal aims to cut down on what's being called "lunch shaming."

Rep. Gary Tauchen introduced a bipartisan bill that would require schools to provide a school lunch or breakfast to a student who requests a meal and would prohibit schools from taking certain actions against students who are unable to pay for meals.

"If you're hungry, you're just not in the mood to learn. You're just wondering where your next meal is coming from," said Tauchen, a Republican from Bonduel.

Lunch shaming is a practice making news around the country, where there have been instances of schools taking away lunch trays from students or providing them with less nutritious alternative meals if their meal accounts have negative balances.

After Tauchen heard the practice was happening in Wisconsin, he decided to introduce a proposal hoping to make policies consistent across the state and give children equal access to meals.

"Every school district has to have some kind of a policy, but it's inconsistent. We need to standardize it and make sure that students are getting fed," Tauchen said.

Local district administrators say they would never let a child go hungry. Some schools have urged Tauchen to leave the policy decisions up to them.

The proposal will likely have a public hearing at the end of the month, according to Tauchen's office.

The bill would not provide extra state money for schools that have to pick up the tab for students, but Tauchen said there will be an opportunity to discuss amendments being added to the bill, including a discssion about community members donating to help cover costs.

We took a closer look at student lunch debt policies in Dane County. These are some of the policies:

Belleville School District: "The Superintendent shall maintain a system of collecting payment for outstanding lunch balances."

Deerfield Community School District: "When there are no funds ($0.00) in the student’s food service account, the student will not be allowed to charge additional items such as a la carte or “extra” items."

DeForest Area School District: "Money must be in the account before a purchase can be made. It is recommended that you keep $10 per child in the account at all times. Accounts with a negative balance cannot purchase second lunches, extra entrees, extra milk or ala carte items. Please monitor your account carefully. Accounts that are delinquent in payment will be notified that they can no longer make any purchases to the account."

Madison Metropolitan School District: "All schools within the DISTRICT are committed to offering school meals that are accessible to all students, are appealing and attractive to children, are served in clean and pleasant settings, meet or exceed current nutrition requirements established by local, state, and Federal statutes and regulations."

Marshall Public Schools: "The District will permit students to continue to consume school meals until their balance reaches -$20.00. When a student’s food service account balance exceeds -$20.00, the student will no longer be permitted to charge a meal purchase to their account. The District will provide a basic alternative sack lunch for no more than five days. The alternative meal will consist of a sandwich, fruit & milk."

McFarland School District: "After collection procedures have proven unsuccessful, families with lunch account balances at or below negative ten dollars ($10.00) will be denied access to all school food programs using their account until a mutually agreed upon payment plan is reached or the account is paid in full (see Rule 762.1)."

Middleton-Cross Plains School District: "If payment is not received by the due date, these student accounts shall not be able to charge meals until the negative account balance is resolved and prepayment is available to return the account to debit status. When the delinquent account becomes two weeks past due, a $5.00 service fee will be assessed."

Monona Grove School District: "A student may be allowed to incur a negative food service account balance subject to the following conditions. Students may be permitted to accumulate negative food service account balance as determined by the Superintendent. The Superintendent shall determine the manner of determining permissible account balances by grade level. A student shall not be permitted to purchase a la carte items without sufficient account balance or cash on hand."

Mount Horeb Area School District: "If a student account reaches $-20.00 with no payment arrangements in place, the student will be served an alternate lunch of a Turkey/Cheese Sandwich, Fruit, and Milk for $1.50 charged to the student account."

Oregon School District: "If a negative balance still has not been paid after the efforts described above, parents and guardians should be aware of the following:

The District will continue to work with the parent or guardian on payment options.

The District may restrict the student’s ability to purchase a la carte food service items.

The District will roll over the unpaid meal balance to the next school year for students who are not approved for free or reduced school meals."

School District of Cambridge: "When a student’s account reaches -$0.01, families will be notified by a automated phone message. When a student’s account reaches -$5.00, families will be contacted by a member of the Food Service Department. When a student’s account reaches the district low balance minimum (-$7.99), families will be contacted by a school administrator."

Stoughton Area School District: "Students, 6th through 12th grade will be allowed to purchase on account only when funds are available. Students with negative account balances may purchase items with cash."

Sun Prairie Area School District: FOX 47 was unable to find a policy.

Verona Area School District: "Students are required to pay off unpaid meal charges before participation in the graduation ceremony."

Wisconsin Heights School District: "Families whose accounts reach a negative balance will be personally notified by automated electronic communication system and/or mail that all students in the family will be denied access to food service programs, when the balance reaches a negative $20.00 or, until a mutually agreed upon payment plan is reached or the account balance is paid in full. Payment will be expected in order to continue to receive access to the food service program."

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