Lunch shaming not an issue for IPS

Kids in the cafeteria at Fairbanks School. (WISH photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – As the school year begins, the issue of lunch shaming resurfaces in many districts. Lunch shaming is any practice that publicly embarrasses a student in the cafeteria when they do not have money for meals.

A WISH-TV investigation in June found many school districts serve an alternative meal — often a cheese or peanut butter sandwich – when a student has a negative food account.

While most school districts around central Indiana devise ways to combat lunch shaming, Indianapolis Public Schools – the largest district in the area with nearly 30,000 students – eliminates the issue by offering every student free breakfast and lunch, daily.

Clicker IPS used to count student meals. (WISH photo)

“780,000 meals are served monthly out of IPS,” says Amanda Kruse, RD, CD, Foodservice Operations Manager for IPS. “We’re buying pallets of food to feed these students. We have a whole warehouse that stores the items that we need to be able to serve food each day.”

Each school year, Indianapolis Public Schools serves roughly 2.8 million breakfasts and 4.5 million lunches completely free to students. IPS is reimbursed the cost of the food through the federal program Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).

CEP is administered through the USDA and allows the nation’s highest poverty schools to serve free meals based on need. Any school automatically qualifies for CEP if 40 percent of its student population receives food stamps through SNAP or TANF. Students who are enrolled in these assistance programs are considered “directly certified.”

Kids picking up their lunch at Fairbanks schools. (WISH photo)

“CEP is based solely on Food Stamp and TANF participation,” says Marcia Yurczyk, the school and summer programs monitoring coordinator for the Indiana Department of Education.

Yurczyk explains if a school chooses to participate in CEP, the school must offer free meals to all students. However, the school will only be reimbursed according to the percentage of directly certified students.

The CEP formula multiplies the percentage of “directly certified” students (those on SNAP or TANF) by a so-called “multiplying factor” of 1.6. The result is the percentage at which a school will be reimbursed for meals.

For example, if a district has 40 percent of students directly certified, it would only be reimbursed for 64 percent of its food costs after multiplying by 1.6.

A school would not receive 100 percent reimbursement for meals from CEP unless 62.5 percent of its student population was directly certified.

“We would never encourage a school corporation or a school that’s just at 40 percent to go on CEP because it financially would not match up with them,” says Yurczyk.

24-Hour New 8’s Lauren Lowrey interviews Marcia Yurczyk. (WISH photo)

Yurczyk’s team encourages Indiana districts to have a directly certified rate of at least 50 percent before considering applying for CEP.

“We have well over 250 school corporations qualifying, but only 56 school corporations have at least one school participating in CEP,” says Yurczyk.

This link shows every Indiana school and district that is eligible for CEP under the program guidelines. This much more abbreviated list shows every school that participated in CEP during the 2016-2017 school year. Schools within Lawrence Township, Wayne Township and Perry Township are included in the list.

Cafeteria worker setting up for lunch. (WISH photo)

IPS enrolled in CEP in 2014 and Kruse says it has been a great opportunity for the district.

“You don’t have to have that concern that you have enough money on your lunch account,” says Kruse. “I think that it just takes not only the stress off the students but it’s something that makes it a little bit easier operationally.”

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