New York State Law Prohibiting Meal Shaming

New York State Law Prohibiting Meal Shaming



We are writing to advise you of the recent enactment of Education Law Section 908, entitled “Prohibition Against Meal Shaming.”  The law became effective on April 12, 2018 and applies to all public school districts, charter schools and non-public schools that participate in the national school lunch program or school breakfast program and in which there is at least one school where at least one student pays for breakfast or lunch (“covered schools”).

The law requires covered schools to develop a plan to ensure that a student whose parent/guardian has unpaid school meal fees is not shamed or treated differently than a student whose parent/guardian does not have unpaid school meal fees.  Covered schools must submit their plan to the State Education Department (“SED”) electronic mailbox via by July 1, 2018.

After submitting their plan to SED, covered schools must adopt and post the plan on their websites.  SED has prepared a template plan (available at and guidance regarding the new law (available at

The plan must include, at a minimum, the following:

a.    An explanation of how staff will be trained to ensure that the covered school’s procedures are carried out correctly and how the affected parents/guardians will be provided with assistance in establishing eligibility for free or reduced-price meals for their children.

b.    Procedures requiring the covered school to notify a student’s parent/guardian that the student’s meal card or account balance is exhausted and unpaid meal charges are due. The notification procedures may include a repayment schedule. The covered school may not charge interest or fees.

c.    A statement that the covered school will provide a student with his/her meal of choice of the available reimbursable meal choices (not a la carte items, adult meals or other items) if the student requests one, unless the student’s parent/guardian has provided written permission to the school to withhold a meal.

d.    A clear explanation of procedures designed to decrease student distress or embarrassment, which includes a prohibition of the following:

i.     publicly identifying or stigmatizing a student who cannot pay for a meal or who owes a meal debt (for example, by requiring that the student wear a wristband or hand stamp);

ii.    requiring a student who cannot pay for a meal or who owes a meal debt to do chores or other work to pay for meals;

iii.   requiring that a student throw away a meal after it has been served because of the student’s inability to pay or because money is owed for earlier meals;

iv.    taking any action directed at a student to collect unpaid school meal fees (a covered school may attempt to collect unpaid school meal fees from a parent/guardian, but may not use a debt collector to do so); or

v.     discussing outstanding meal debt in the presence of other students.

e.    A clear explanation of the procedure to handle unpaid meal charges. The law provides that it is not intended to allow for the unlimited accrual of debt.

f.    A communication procedure designed to support eligible families enrolling in the national free and reduced price meal program that includes a process for determining eligibility when a student owes money for five or more meals, including requirements for the covered school to:

i.     “make every attempt” to determine if a student is directly certified to be eligible for free meals;

ii.    make at least two attempts, not including the application or instructions included in a school enrollment packet, to reach the student’s parent/guardian and have the parent/guardian complete a meal application; and

iii.   require a covered school to contact the parent/guardian to offer assistance with a meal application, determine if there are other issues within the household that have caused the child to have insufficient funds to purchase a school meal, and offer any other assistance that is appropriate.

g.    Procedures to enroll in the free and reduced price lunch program, including provisions stating that, at the beginning of each school year, a covered school will provide a free, printed meal application in every school enrollment packet. In the alternative, if the covered school uses an electronic meal application, it will include in school enrollment packets an explanation of the electronic meal application process and instructions for how parents/guardians may request a paper application at no cost.

h.    If a covered school becomes aware that a student who has not submitted a meal application is eligible for free or reduced-fee meals, the covered school will complete and file an application for the student pursuant to federal regulations.

i.     The covered school’s nutrition department/school food authority will coordinate with the school’s homeless, foster and migrant student liaisons to ensure that eligible homeless, foster and migrant students receive free school meals in accordance with federal law.

If you have any questions regarding this new law or if you would like assistance drafting the plan required by this new law, please contact Lauren Schnitzer or one of our other attorneys by calling 631-694-2300.


© Lamb & Barnosky, LLP 2018