Yes, lunch shaming is a thing, as I just learned from this New York Times article from Bettina Elias Siegel that is so disturbing, I had to stop physically shaking after reading it before I could come here and write this.
Evidently in a number of states, children in need are being publically humiliated and emotionally abused — by administrators — if they can’t afford to pay for school lunch or are behind on payments.
One Alabama third-grader came home with an “I Need Lunch Money” stamp on his arm, with a happy face on it to presumably soften the blow.
How kind of the Gardendale Elementary staff not to actually brand it permanently into his arm.
Other schools have forced children to work off the debt by mopping floors or other janitorial work; and still others have simply thrown away the kids’ lunch while they were eating it. Because wasting a whole tray of food sure teaches a lesson about…nope. It teaches nothing except that it’s okay for adults entrusted with the wellbeing of our children five days a week to bully, humiliate, or shame children who probably have enough problems in their lives if they are so far behind on lunch payments.
Well evidently Alabama isn’t the only state where this has been a problem, since New Mexico’s Governor Susana Martinez was compelled to pass the first ever Hunger-Free Students Bill of Rights. (You can read the full text here, in PDF.)
It requires that all schools must provide meals to children, whether they’re reimbursed by the family or by the USDA, because hello, humanity?
It also specifies that meals can’t be tossed for non-payment, and a child can’t be stigmatized or even publically identified.
I was happy to read that the law also provides a very specific series of steps for contacting parents, none of which include arm stamps. Because if a kid is going that long without paying for meals, and the parent hasn’t responded to requests, there are probably far bigger issues at home for a principal or counselor to look into.
Let’s hope that every single other state follows suit. And that new US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has the heart to step in and give some stern directives to all administrators about this.
Because seriously, WTF.
Photo: US Dept Ed on Flickr via cc license