Bills heard to ban school lunch debt punishments, pledge of allegiance discrimination

Monitor staff
Published: 1/22/2020 4:44:32 PM

House lawmakers are examining bills to prevent schools from punishing students who rack up school lunch debt – and protecting those who don’t want to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

At a hearing Wednesday, the House Education Committee heard House Bill 1127, which would bar schools from carrying out policies that might stigmatize students that fall behind on lunch payments.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Tim Horrigan, a Durham Democrat, would prevent schools from making a child do chores or other work to pay off the debt for the meals.

And it would require the schools to communicate with the child’s parents and not the student directly about the amount owed – a measure intended to reduce embarrassment within school walls.

“It would just make sure that if a family isn’t paying for a meal the kid still gets fed, and also that students wouldn’t know about it,” Horrigan said.

Horrigan also sponsored House Bill 1361, which would amend the state’s law around the Pledge of Allegiance. Since 2002, state statute has required that schools authorize a period of the day to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, though students are not obliged to recite the Pledge. Horrigan’s bill would require students and pupils to “respect the rights of those not participating.” It would protect students from being excluded from academic, athletic or extra-curricular activities “merely for refusal to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or other patriotic ceremony” – and make participation in those events voluntary by teachers and staff.

Horrigan argued the bill was meant to ward against any retaliation against demonstrations by student athletes and others.

One representative was skeptical and pointed to a portion of the bill that could turn the Pledge of Allegiance from a mandatory offering by school districts to an optional one.

“What if the school teachers decided that they may not give this instruction to students?” said Rep. Bob Elliott, a Salem Republican. “Wouldn’t that lead to future generations, as it gets worse and worse, to be ex-patriots?”

Horrigan said he was happy to amend the bill to make it clear that it remains a required offering.

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