It’s hard enough being a kid today, especially if your family is struggling to make ends meet. That’s why New Mexico Appleseed’s flagship victory last week against “lunch shaming” is a big deal.
That’s when a child can’t pay the bill for a school meal, and the school targets the child instead of dealing with the parents. Some schools have made students wear a wrist band, thrown their food out in front of everyone, or forced kids to do cafeteria chores.
For Jon Bivens, the last straw was when his third-grader came home from school in Gardendale, last June with “I Need Lunch Money” stamped on his arm. “It’s a form of bullying and shaming the kids,” said Bivens. Similar arm-stamps have been used in Arizona.
“School meal debt happens in every single district in the country, and it’s just a humiliation that gets us nowhere,” Jenny Ramo, New Mexico Appleseed’s Executive Director, told NBC Nightly News. “It’s detrimental to a child’s education, especially if they haven’t been able to eat.”
As New Mexico student Hazel Compton told the Today Show, “It just made me feel more poor.”
New Mexico Appleseed was instrumental in the design and success of the Hunger Free Students’ Bill of Rights–the first law in the nation to outlaw lunch shaming–which requires schools that receive federal meal subsidies to work the debt out with parents or seek federal help. Texas and California have also introduced anti-shaming laws.
To be fair, more than ¾ of U.S. school districts have uncollected school meal debt, which they can’t offset with federal aid. And the New Mexico law allows for non-public measures like holding back transcripts and student parking passes until debts are paid. “Mostly, school nutrition directors are trying to balance their budgets and they see this is a necessary but effective evil,” Ramo told the New York Times.
But, she adds, “We have to separate the child from a debt they have no power to pay….What we need to do is feed the children and work out the debt with the adults.”
Thanks to New Mexico Appleseed, more students can focus on getting the most out of school. If you want to support work like this, please make a tax-deductible contribution today to New Mexico Appleseed or one of our other amazing Centers or to the Appleseed Network.
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