PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Legislation is being introduced in the state House and Senate to put an end to lunch shaming in Pennsylvania school districts.
The issue came to light in September, when a cafeteria worker in the Canon-McMillan School District quit because she had to throw away a child’s chicken nuggets.
Stacy Koltiska was a stay-at-home mom, but when her youngest daughter was 8 years old, she was ready to get out of the house. So she took a job as a cafeteria worker in the Canon-McMillan School District.
Koltiska says she loved the job until last summer, when the district put a new policy in place. It said that for any child whose family owed $25 or more on their school lunch account, the hot lunch would be replaced with a cold cheese sandwich.
“I will never forget taking that lunch on the first week of school from a little first grade boy,” Koltiska said. “His eyes, his eyes welled up with tears … I looked at my boss like, are you going to make me do this? And I gave him that cheese, and I was so ashamed of myself.”
Koltiska resigned from her job and posted about the experience on Facebook. That post went viral.
“I’ve been messaged from around the world,” she said. “People in this country and other countries. To do this to children… Don’t they have enough pressure?”
And there are other examples from other parts of the state.
“Someone told me today they drew ‘no money’ on someone’s arm when they were young, so they would go home, and their parents would see ‘no money,’” Pa. Sen. Daylin Leach said. “That stuff is just… I can’t describe how angry that makes me.”
State representative Donna Bullock, a Democrat from Philadelphia, is sponsoring a bill that would ban lunch shaming practices.
Schools would be required to direct all communications about a student’s debt directly to the parents and provide an alternative lunch that must meet USDA requirements — not a cold cheese sandwich.
“It cannot be a cold cheese sandwich,” Bullock said.
State senator Jay Costa from Allegheny County introduced a companion bill, which includes helping districts work with parents to alleviate the debt and provide information about free and reduced meal programs.
“Of course, we all want our parents to pay their school lunch accounts, but publicly shaming our children is not the way to do it,” Bullock said.
Canon-McMillan has since revised its lunch policy to allow students in kindergarten through eighth grade to purchase an alternative hot lunch even if their account is behind.