NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — North Dakota lawmakers have introduced two bills that could have an impact on lunch for students statewide.

The bills would end lunch shaming and make school lunches free for all.

House Bills 1491 and 1494 were recently introduced during this year’s legislative session.

HB 1491 would provide free lunch for all K-12 students from July 2023 to June 2025.

And in the South Prairie School District, the superintendent said this would benefit its students.

“We’re right at 535 kids. With preschool, we get up to about 560. So we’ve definitely got a pile of kids out here and we support everyone across the board. So it’s really a nice thing to have the free meals if it were to come to fruition for us,” said Wayne Stanley, the superintendent for the South Prairie School District.

Stanley says the last two years when school lunch was free for all, students were taking advantage of the meal.

“Our number one goal is to have kids fed. And for some of these families, we know it’s, Monday morning you can see those that come in and rely solely on the school lunch to make sure the kids are well fed. And we do attempt to do our best from seconds to things like that,” said Stanley.

House Bill 1494 would ban lunch shaming, by making sure every student has the same lunch.

If this bill passed, schools could not provide an alternative meal or take away a meal from students that have accumulated debt.

“It’s very hard for students, especially the younger kids to be treated differently just because they have lunch bills that haven’t been paid. Some of those kids don’t even know and I would say a lot of littler kids don’t even know that there’s no money in their account. And that causes a lot of anxiety,” said Linda Schloer, the child nutrition programs director for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

And Stanley agrees, he says he has witnessed lunch shaming firsthand, and he doesn’t want kids to feel ashamed.

“If they were to be given a separate sack lunch versus what today’s meal lunch was. It’s definitely, it’s not a great feeling to see a kid lower their head as they’re going through, feeling embarrassed about something that’s going on,” said Stanley.

Stanley is in favor of these bills passing.

He says food is crucial to the success of students.

“For the kids to learn, direct correlation between having a full belly and getting your work done and being able to concentrate on something besides my stomach hurts and I’m hungry. Things like that,” said Stanely.

He says South Prairie School District has a lunch debt program, and thanks to donors, the costs of students’ meals are usually cleared.

The money for House Bill 1491 to provide free lunch for all students would come from the state’s general fund.