The New Jersey Senate and General Assembly has approved the “Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act,” (the “Act”) which requires certain school meal information be provided to students’ parents and establishes protocols for identifying eligible students for meal programs. The Act will take effect on the first day of the school year. Specifically, the Act states the following:
1. If a student’s school breakfast or lunch bill is in arrears, a district must contact the students parent or guardian to provide notice of the arrearage and provide them with a period of 10 school days to pay the amount due. If payment is not made within the 10-day period, then the district shall again contact the parent or guardian to notify them of any action to be taken by the district in response to the outstanding arrears.
2. Nothing in the Act shall be construed to require a school district to deny or restrict access to school breakfast or lunch to a student whose bill is in arrears.
3. A school district shall not:
- Publicly identify or stigmatize a student who cannot pay for a school meal or whose bill is in arrears, for example, by requiring that the student sit at a separate table, wear a wristband, be served an alternate meal, etc.
- Require a student who cannot pay for a school meal or whose bill is in arrears to do chores or other work to pay for their meal.
- Require a student to discard a school meal after it has been served because of the student’s inability to pay for a meal or because money is owed for previously provided meals.
4. If a student owes money for the equivalent of five or more school meals, the district shall:
- Determine if the student is eligible for free or reduced meal.
- Make at least two attempts, not including the application or instructions provided to the parent, to contact the student’s parents or guardian and have them fill out an application for the school meal program;
- Require a principal or designated personnel, to contact the parent or guardian to offer assistance with the application for the meal program, determine if there are other issues within the house causing the child to have insufficient funds for meals, and offer any additional assistance.
5. A district must direct communications about a students bill being in arrears to the parent or guardian and not the student. A district may, however, send a student home with a letter addressed to a parent or guardian.
6. At the start of the school year, a district shall provide to the parent or guardian of each student the following:
- Information on the National School Lunch Program and the federal School Breakfast Program;
- An application to apply for the school meal programs and instructions for completing the applications;
- Information on the rights of students and their families
- Information shall be in a language that the parent or guardian understands.
7. School district liaison for the education of homeless children shall coordinate with school district personnel to ensure that a homeless student receives free school meals and is monitored according to the school district’s policies.