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State says school districts cannot take families to court over unpaid lunch fees

Schools in New York will be prevented from suing parents over unpaid breakfast or lunch debts.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation building on the state’s No Student Goes Hungry program.

“Taking families to court over unpaid school meals is cruel, draconian, and runs counter to a school’s fundamental mission to ensure the wellbeing of every student,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This legislation builds upon this administration’s work to end lunch shaming in New York and makes it clear that no family in need should have to endure a burdensome and costly legal process over their children’s nutritional health.”

Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

In 2018, New York ended ‘meal shaming’ of students in public schools. This was an effort to prevent students with unpaid school meal fees from being treated differently. The state says that since then there have been prominent cases of districts threatening to file lawsuits or take the families of students with unpaid meal fees to court to collect fees.

The state admitted those cases have been infrequent. However, the risk of them rising was enough to warrant action. This action will also work in concert with the federal government’s commitment to ensuring that students in the United States receive the vital meals they need to learn and thrive. As part of the recovery from the COVID pandemic, the United States Department of Agriculture has announced that school meals provided through the National School Lunch Program will be provided free of charge to all students through June 2022.