State law establishes a policy regarding unpaid meal charges that prohibits shaming and/or denying meals.
RCW 28A.235.260 Free or reduced-price meals -- Student assistance
If a student has not paid for five or more previous meals, the school shall:
(1)Determine whether the student is categorically eligible for free meals;
(2)If no application has been submitted for the student to determine his or her eligibility for free or reduced-price meals, make no fewer than two attempts to contact the student’s parent or guardian to have him or her submit an application; and
(3)Have a principal, assistant principal, or school counselor contact the parent or guardian for the purpose of: (a) Offering assistance with completing an application to determine the student’s eligibility for free or reduced-price meals; (b) determining whether there are any household issues that may prevent the student from having sufficient funds for school meals; and (c) offering any appropriate assistance.
RCW 28A.235.270 Free or reduced-price meals -- School prohibitions
(1)No school or school district personnel or school volunteer may:
(a)Take any action that would publicly identify a student who cannot pay for a school meal or for meals previously served to the student, including but not limited to requiring the student to wear a wristband, hand stamp, or other identifying marker, or by serving the student an alternative meal;
(b)Require a student who cannot pay for a school meal or for meals previously served to the student to perform chores or other actions in exchange for a meal or for the reduction or elimination of a school meal debt, unless all students perform similar chores or work;
(c)Require a student to dispose of an already served meal because of the student’s inability to pay for the meal or because of money owed for meals previously served to the student;
(d)Allow any disciplinary action that is taken against a student to result in the denial or delay of a nutritionally adequate meal to the student; or
(e)Require a parent or guardian to pay fees or costs in excess of the actual amounts owed for meals previously served to the student.
(2)Communications from a school or school district about amounts owed for meals previously served to a student under the age of fifteen may only be directed to the student’s parent or guardian. Nothing in this subsection prohibits a school or school district from sending a student home with a notification that is addressed to the student’s parent or guardian.
(3)(a)A school district shall notify a parent or guardian of the negative balance of a student’s school meal account no later than ten days after the student’s school meal account has reached a negative balance. Within thirty days of sending this notification, the school district shall exhaust all options to directly certify the student for free or reduced-price meals. Within these thirty days, while the school district is attempting to certify the student for free or reduced-price meals, the student may not be denied access to a school meal unless the school district determines that the student is ineligible for free or reduced-price meals.
(b)If the school district is unable to directly certify the student for free or reduced-price meals, the school district shall provide the parent or guardian with a paper copy of or an electronic link to an application for free or reduced-price meals with the notification required by (a) of this subsection and encourage the parent or guardian to submit the application.