New bill requires free student breakfast, lunch for low-income schools in Massachusetts

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Massachusetts students will now have greater access to school meals.

A bill was signed into law last week by Governor Charlie Baker that would require schools or school districts to start inclusive free breakfast and lunch for all students if the majority of students in the school meet the low-income criteria.

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The law, “aimed at promoting student nutrition,” prohibits school staff or volunteers from publicly identifying a student when payment for a meal has not been received.

The law also includes provisions that protect students from getting meals. For example, students may not be deprived of a meal as a form of behavioral discipline or punishment and staff cannot dispose of any meals served due to students’ inability to pay for them or due to unresolved meal debts.

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Additionally, by law, schools cannot prevent students or their siblings from participating in extracurricular activities, field trips, or school events without fees, if they owe money for meals. Furthermore, schools cannot withhold grades, official transcripts, report cards, graduation, or graduation attendance due to unresolved meal debt.

Schools are also prohibited from requiring parents and guardians to pay additional fees or interest costs for the amount owed for meals.

“This bill would end the undue burden on students whose families are incurring school meal debt by preventing children from participating,” Governor Karen Polito said in a news release. “No child should be involved in debt collection or feel uncomfortable when they go to lunch at school.”

Additionally, the law requires school districts to determine whether students who receive unpaid meals are eligible for free or reduced-price meals within 30 days of notification of the debt. Within 30 days, students can still receive food.

After signing the law, Baker said: “This legislation is another way we can ensure that all children in the Commonwealth have healthy meals when they are in school.” “We are grateful to our partners in the legislature for their leadership on this important issue so that no child goes hungry and can focus on learning and teaching.”

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