This Is Why We Need To Stop School Lunch Shaming

David Avocado Wolfe

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Last February at La Salle Springs Middle School, Don Re’s 13-year-old daughter looked forward to eating her school lunch, a hot French dip sandwich that sat on her lunch tray. But when the young girl arrived at the front of the line to pay for her school lunch, the food service worker didn’t let her eat the sandwich.

This was because she owed $2.20 in her school lunch account.

So the worker allegedly took her food, threw it away, and gave her instead a cold American cheese sandwich. The worker, as instructed by the school, did all of this in front of other students.

But Re said his daughter doesn’t handle dairy well. So she went without.

This is just one example of “lunch shaming”.  It’s a common practice in which schools single out students who are unable to pay for lunch. This atrocity is happening in schools all cross the nation.

A school lunch costs roughly $2.35. When a student doesn’t have enough money, many schools require cafeteria workers to confiscate a kid’s tray of hot food and throw it in the trash. The worker then hands the student a cold cheese sandwich.

And that’s not all. In some instances, the schools force children who can’t pay to wear stamps, stickers or wristbands that set them apart as having unpaid debt.

Jenny Ramo, the executive director of New Mexico Appleseed, a nonprofit that works to eliminate poverty, has a few thoughts on this practice. “No one believes we do this to kids,” Ramo said.  “It’s barbaric.”

But the time has come to put a stop to school lunch shaming.

In order to curb the worst of these practices, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate recently introduced the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act of 2017.

“We want schools to work with parents, not target the student, to address outstanding lunch payments,” says Republican Congressman Rodney Davis of Illinois, who is a co-sponsor of the bill in question.

The bill in Congress forbids schools from “public identification or stigmatization” of kids who don’t have enough money for lunch. That means the end of stamping a kid’s hand or forcing them to wear a wristband when they have run up debt in the school cafeteria.

Cafeteria workers would also be barred from taking food from a student who has already been served.

Some have voiced their concerns over irresponsible parents, claiming they are the real culprits in the situation. It’s not always as simple as that, however, as Joyce Melbourne learned.

Melbourne, an elementary school teacher in Florida, paid out of her own pocket for one of her student’s lunches.

“Her eyes were filled with tears,” Melbourne said. “All the other students had pizza and she had the thickest cheese sandwich I’ve ever seen in my life.”

She says a lunch lady snapped at the girl, asking whether she was going to do this every day.

“I knew that as one of my brightest students, I needed her to finish her day on a positive note,” Melbourne said.

As it turns out, the problem was that the girl’s parents were not adept in speaking English. Melbourne then went the extra mile. She asked a translator to work with the family to fill out the paperwork. The student was able to get on the free meal program.

“Children should not be punished because their parents can’t pay,” Melbourne says.

You can help these students by contacting Congress or the food service manager of your local school district. Input from locals can help shape the policies regarding school lunches. You can also donate to one of the many GoFundMe accounts that various educators and parents have set up around the nation for this cause.

Fortunately, for some students, some of the battle has been won. In April, New Mexico became the first state to ban all school lunch shaming.

Senator Udall of New Mexico, who introduced the bill, said it best: “We can’t expect our kids to succeed in the classroom if they are hungry.”

School lunch shaming is happening all over the nation:

Stamping children is also common:

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