Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
Can you imagine a child being humiliated in front of his classmates just because he can’t afford to pay for lunch at the school cafeteria? What’s worse, bullies aren’t the ones responsible, the cafeteria staff is. Sadly, this awful picture is the reality in various states across the U.S., and it’s called lunch shaming.
Lunch shaming has included things like making a child work in exchange for their meal, doing things like mopping the cafeteria floor and cleaning up trash and food off of the tables, all in front of their classmates. In some states it has even gone as far as cafeteria workers stamping a kid’s arm with the words, “I need lunch money,” or throwing away their hot meal if they are not able to pay for it.
Fortunately, New Mexico has made the move to outlaw this horrible practice, and they’re the first state in the nation to do so. Governor Susana Martinez signed the Hunger-Free Student’s Bill of Rights. This bill guides schools to work with the students’ parents to pay their debt or helps them sign up for federal meal assistance. It will apply to public, private, and religious schools that get federal aid for student’s meals. (These healthy lunches can boost your child’s brain power.)
Lunch shaming, even when it’s not that extreme, can is just as hard on the school staff members who have to enforce it. Stacy Koltiska, a lunchroom staffer at an elementary school in Pennsylvania, quit her job because she was forced to refuse a little boy his lunch. Employees at other schools have even used their own money to pay for student’s lunches. (This is how one teacher gave underprivileged kids a voice.)
Bottom line: School meal debt is a national crisis that needs to be solved. The School Nutrition Association reported that over three quarters of school districts in the US had uncollected debt at the end of the academic year. Other states such as Texas and California have also started to enforce anti-lunch-shaming laws. But, the steps taken by these states are just the first few in making sure that kids don’t feel responsible for paying back something that they have no control over.