At the Jan. 14 board meeting, school board chair Anna Shepherd asked the district to provide a list of outstanding charges at each school in the district. Collectively, schools have accumulated more than $67,000 in unpaid lunch fees.
MNPS students unable to pay for lunch are not denied access to meals, according to a district policy. The district sends out reminders about outstanding balances through letters and by telephone.
Shepherd said she had the idea for the challenge after hearing families had received calls from the district about their child’s lunch debt during the holiday season.
“I find that very offensive,” Shepherd said during the meeting. “These calls were made during the holidays when tensions are already high due to not having enough money for Christmas. Secondly, I find this offensive because we are shaming our students and our families because their students dare to eat a hot meal at school.”
If lunch debts remain unpaid, individual schools must pay the charges from their school-based budgets, according to Shepherd. Schools in Southwest Nashville have accrued more than $32,000 in lunch debt, including nearly $10,000 at Hillsboro High School in Green Hills.
“I would like Nashvillians to rise to the challenge to pay off student lunch at each particular school,” Shepherd said.
According to MNPS, all but 29 schools qualify for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Community Eligibility Provision, which offers every student a free meal regardless of income. Students enrolled at the non-eligible schools can apply for the national free or reduced-price lunch program.
While students are not denied meals at MNPS schools, State Rep. John Ray Clemmons introduced HB1589, or the "Tennessee Anti-Lunch Shaming Act," this legislative session, which would prohibit schools from publicly identifying students who cannot pay for meals.
Clemmons, who represents the southwest area of Nashville, said this is the third year he has introduced a bill aimed at preventing “lunch-shaming” in public schools.
“Children should never be punished, stigmatized, bullied or discriminated against in any way if they incur a lunch debt, it’s not their fault” Clemmons said in a statement Jan. 11. “My bill also encourages schools to help parents complete free and reduced meal applications.”
MNPS has published a list of schools with outstanding lunch balances greater than $200. Residents who wish to donate can mail a check to individual schools along with a note stipulating that the funds are directed to paying off the school's lunch debts.
Andrew Jackson Elementary
Casa Azafran ELC
Crieve Hall Elementary
Dan Mills Elementary
Harpeth Valley Elementary
Head Magnet Middle
J.T. Moore Middle
Julia Green Elementary
Meigs Middle Magnet
MLK Magnet High
Nashville School of Arts
Paragon Mills Elementary
Rose Park Magnet Middle
Sylvan Park Elementary
Waverly Belmont Elementary
West End Middle