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Massachusetts Senate passes bill to ensure school children eat healthy meals

Legislation requires schools and districts with high populations of low-income families to enroll in federal programs that would allow free breakfast and lunch for students.

Updated: September 23, 2021 - 8:47pm

A bill that would ensure children in the state have access to nutritious foods at school passed the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Karen Spilka, D-2nd Middlesex and Norfolk, announced Senate Bill No. 298’s passage in a tweet, stating that “even one child going to school hungry is too many.”

Even one child going to school hungry is too many. Today, the @MA_Senate passed a bill which requires at-risk school districts to offer universal free breakfast & lunch, & includes measures to prevent students from being denied food simply because they have an unpaid debt #mapoli https://t.co/wITXQtvmyK— Senate President Karen Spilka (@KarenSpilka) September 23, 2021

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Cindy Creem, D-Newton, would require schools and school districts with high populations of low-income families to enroll in federal programs that would allow free breakfast and lunch for students, the bill reads.

Creem said in a tweet, “I’m thrilled that we took action. Children should not be going hungry, and their schools should not penalize them for their family’s poverty.”

The Massachusetts State Senate just passed An Act to Promote Student Nutrition, sponsored by Senator Cindy Creem (D-Newton)! #mapoli #maedu 1/8 pic.twitter.com/3jKallLFLp— MA State Senate (@MA_Senate) September 23, 2021

Schools would be required, under the bill, to assess student's meal debt and after 30 days, the school will have to determine if the student would meet free or reduced-price meals.

Additionally, schools will be prohibited from punishing students with meal debt with practices such as “withholding report cards, transcripts, preventing graduation or walking at graduation” or “throwing a hot meal away and replacing it with an inferior meal.”

Districts that feature 60% or more students from low-income families would be required to implement the federal government’s Community Eligibility Provision, which provides free breakfast and lunch to all students in the district, the bill reads.

Schools also would be prevented from publicly identifying a student carrying a meal debt, communicate that information only with a parent, or guardian, and are can’t withhold a meal because of debt, nor serve an alternative meal in lieu of a hot meal, and can’t deny a meal as punishment for bad behavior.

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