No school lunch shaming for you!
More and more schools across the U.S. have been shaming kids who can’t pay school lunch bills, but the state of New Mexico, at least, is putting a stop to it.
On April 6, 2017, Gov. Susana Martinez signed a new bill that is reportedly the first of its kind, called the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights. The bill will be put in place to make schools work with the parents to pay school lunch debts instead of embarrassing the kids.
The National School Lunch Program system in the U.S. is similar to other countries: they offer a lunch program that provides nutritional meals, which in some cases are given to students for free or are paid for by the parents at reduced or full prices depending on their annual income.
Th Hunger-Free bill comes after several instances of kids being shamed for not having sufficient funds to pay for their lunch went viral.
Early this month, a young boy at a Phoenix elementary school was branded with a “lunch money” stamp on his arm. Naturally, the photo of the kids arm was posted on social media and angered plenty of people
The student’s mother, who spoke to Buzzfeed about it, said her son was completely humiliated and that normally she would receive a letter notifying her that her son didn’t have sufficient funds to pay for his meal.
“I think there’s a better way to communicate the message than stamping a child with the word ‘Lunch Money,’” she said.
Another similar case happened last year, when a kid at an elementary school in Alabama was also branded with a stamp that read “I Need Lunch Money.” The father of the child explained that he too would usually receive email notifications if his son’s money account was running low and that “stamping a message on a child’s body instead of calling” is not OK, according to AL.com.
The principle of the school responded to the complaint by saying that the “school first sends emails when a child’s account balance is low or negative and if parents do not respond, the lunchroom workers use the stickers or stamps.”
While branding kids with stamps and shaming them for not having enough money to pay for their food is clearly not the correct way to communicate with parents, many schools across the U.S. are dealing with a lot of debt due to the meal program.
According to the School Nutrition Association, more than three-quarters of school districts have uncollected debt and some districts have even reported median lunch debts from up to $4.7 million.
In a letter sent out last year by the United States Department of Agriculture, they stated that any debt that is uncollectable can be written off by the school nutrition departments, but they cannot offset the losses with federal dollars. All the schools are advised to instead use other forms of revenue to cover them.
The new bill passed by the state of New Mexico won’t be the first of its kind for much longer. State Sen. Michael Padilla, who helped usher in this new bill, spoke to NPR recently and said that he’s heard from other legislators who would like to present a bill similar to theirs.
So hopefully we’ll be seeing fewer stamps on kids and more food in their stomachs.