Central Texas man trying to change 'lunch shaming' one district at a time

Posted at 6:07 AM, Feb 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-21 07:43:26-05

The term "lunch shaming" describes any time a student is bullied based on the fact that they received a free or reduced lunch and it's a term that has now affected people in Central Texas.

"It's nationwide, you know kids all over the nation are struggling with this and going through this every single day," Brian Leija said.

But, it wasn't until Leija's sister, who is a student in Belton ISD, came home from school and told him her friend didn't have lunch money for a few days and that's when he realized how big a problem lunch shaming truly is.

"Lunch shaming is defined as isolation, you know you go to the front... you get your tray and think you're going to get your food but they put in their number and they are overcharged what they can be and then in front of everybody the tray gets pulled and they get given a sack lunch," Leija added.

As of now the state of Texas requires school districts to be financially responsible for all meal payment account balances. For that reason, school districts like Belton ISD allow students to charge up to $10 on their account and after reaching that limit, the student starts receiving a courtesy meal at a discounted price.

But, that's when Leija said because the students meal looks different, it puts a target on their back.

"There is already bullying as it is you're just adding another factor to get bullied," Leija said.

A problem so widespread that some states have enacted legislation to fix it.

And while Texas has made strides in addressing the way lunch debt is handled, they have not enacted legislation that addresses lunch shaming specifically.

But, Leija is doing what he can to fix the problem one district at a time.

"Presenting to the school board was the first step and the second step was starting a Gofundme account," Leija said. The account aims to raise money to help cover outstanding account balances at Belton ISD. 

Central Texas News Now reached out to Belton ISD about their free or reduced lunch policy, the district gave us this statement:

"Belton ISD’s Nutrition Services Department follows all local, state, and federal school nutrition guidelines and is committed to providing nutritious meals for our students.

The Nutrition Services Department maintains financial integrity by charging and tracking student balances as required by policy.

Parents receive several notifications when their child has a negative account balance. Students at secondary campuses who have incurred more than $10 of debt are provided an alternative courtesy lunch.

Taking care of our students is a priority, and all students are provided a nutritious meal even when they have negative balances."

A spokesperson also added that the district is always willing to accept donations to the district to help with expenses that the district cant budget for.

As it stands now 14 states across the country have made strides to address meal debts in school districts.

States such as Indiana, Arizona, New York, Maine, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington, Pennsylvania and South Dakota have proposed laws that specifically address lunch shaming.

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