Last month I wrote about New Mexico Appleseed’s historic success in getting New Mexico to become the first state in the nation to outlaw “lunch shaming”–where a school targets a child whose family can’t pay the bill for a school meal, instead of the parents or guardians.
Nearly half of all school districts use some form of shaming to compel parents to pay bills. Some stamp students’ hands, or make them wear a wrist band or throw their food out in front of everyone. Twelve-year old Hazel Compton remembers being given white bread and a slice of cheese instead of hot soup. “They would use the sandwich like a threat,” she said. “Like, ‘If you don’t want it, your parents have to pay.'”
“It’s the worst part of the job. Nobody likes it,” says Matt Antignolo, who has worked in public school cafeterias for 24 years.
Now that exposure is paying off. This week, bipartisan lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate introduced the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act, which would bar schools from discriminating against or stigmatizing children who don’t have enough money to pay for meals at school. The legislation would require schools to deal with parents, not their children.
“It is difficult to understand how this practice came to be, but it has to end,” says New Mexico Appleseed Executive Director Jennifer Ramo, who has endorsed the Act. “All of the pencils and books and desks in the world don’t matter if children are hungry and can’t focus.”
The bill also calls for schools to make it easier for needy families to apply for school meals, for coordination to ensure that homeless and foster children are enrolled for free meals, and for online systems to make it easier for parents to pay for meals.
As Ramo told CNN: “A lot of times the parents may just need a little extra time: they may be paycheck-to-paycheck and they just need more time to pay the bill.”
Or as the New York Times puts it, “The humiliation inflicted on children whose parents are late paying school lunch bills – or are too poor to pay them at all – is a national disgrace.”
New Mexico Appleseed is helping to put lunch-shaming on the national map. 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.