By: Brittany Flaherty Theis
Last week, the Governor signed Senate Bill 2428 into law. Now known as Public Act 100-1092, the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act significantly limits school districts’ options for collecting amounts that are owed and payable by students for snacks or meals.
The law requires every school in Illinois, public or private, that participates in the federal child nutrition program, to provide a federally reimbursable meal or snack to a student who requests such meal or snack – regardless of whether the student has the ability to pay for the meal or snack, or owes money for earlier meals or snacks. Notably, schools may not provide an alternate meal or snack that is different from other meals or snacks provided to students in that school and may not prevent the student from accessing the school’s meal or snack services as had become common practice in many school districts throughout the country.
The law seeks to limit practices that stigmatize students. It specifically prohibits schools from publicly identifying or stigmatizing a student who cannot pay for a meal or snack or who owes money for a meal or snack. Such prohibited responses include, but are not limited to:
- Requiring the student to wear a wristband;
- Giving the student a hand stamp;
- Requiring the student to throw away a meal or snack after being served;
- Requiring the student to sit in a separate location;
- Publicly posting the name of the student; or
- Any other action that would stigmatize the student.
Schools are not without options, however. If a student owes money in an amount that is greater than the amount charged to students for 5 lunches (or a lower amount as determined by individual school districts or private schools), a school may reach out to the parent or guardian of the student in an attempt to collect the amount owed and to request that the parent or guardian apply for meal benefits in a federal or State child nutrition program. If the amount owed by a student for meals or snacks reaches $500, and the school has made reasonable efforts to collect the debt from the student’s parent or guardian for at least one year, the school may seek an offset against the parent or guardian through the State Comptroller Act.
Whitt Law is familiar with efforts taken by numerous schools and alliances that represent the interests of school districts to minimize the impact of this law on school districts’ finances, as well as the interests of parents and guardians that wish to limit the debt their student can accumulate. If you have questions regarding the impact of the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act, please contact Whitt Law Attorney Brittany Flaherty Theis.
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