A disturbing new trend has begun to emerge in the news regarding school lunches. “Lunch Shaming” as it has been dubbed, is the practice of shaming or humiliating students as young as kindergarteners for not having enough lunch money in their accounts. From Texas to Pennsylvania, some schools have been reported to force the kids not able to pay to throw away their lunch publicly, and receive a cheaper lunch, such as a single sandwich. Some are required to have their hand stamps or have a note pinned to their shirt. There have even been reports of some students simply not receiving lunch at all. CNN reported that nearly half of all public schools in the U.S. practice lunch shaming in some form.
Outrage over these practices has come to head as policy makers have pushed for reform in lunch rooms across America. The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees lunch debt, and wants to impose a ban on lunch shaming by July 1st. However, some states and school districts have tried to be proactive before then. New Mexico is the first state to pass anti-shaming lunch legislation. Michael Padilla and Linda M. Lopez spearheaded the bill entitled “Hunger-Free Student’s Bill of Rights Act.” The bill requires schools to work with parents directly to reduce their student lunch debt instead of the students, or help the families sign up for federal assistance like free or reduced lunch.
However, some are dubious. “Our biggest hope for [Hunger-Free Student’s Bill of Rights Act] is that no student will have to contemplate what meal they are going to get” said Albuquerque Public Schools spokesperson Monica Armenta to the New York Times. Some elementary schools in Albuquerque have still been reported to serve cold sandwiches to students who had a negative lunch account balance.
Unlike the state of New Mexico, many schools are not following up on their promises to end child hunger in their districts. The New York Times reported that over 45% of public schools have denied hot lunch or regular lunch to their students, and 3% have been reported to not provide any sort of food at all. Things have become dire. Social media posts with photos of children stamped with “I Need Lunch Money” on their hands and lunch workers posting about having to throw away the lunches of dozens of students at a time.
Multiple news reports have claimed that the problem stemming this crisis is the threshold of who receives free or reduced lunch. The Department of Agriculture states that they provide free lunches for students that come from households that make less than $31,980 a year, and reduced lunch for students that come from households that make less than $45,510 a year. While on the surface this addresses the poverty line, many students who have fallen victim to lunch shaming often fall slightly above these incomes. Even if parents make more than $45,510 a year, they may have more dependents than families that fall below the salary mark.
Many public schools across the country have also reported that this economic line also doesn’t work the same for immigrant families. Even if they do qualify, some households are worried about providing the information needed to receive free lunch will tip off their status to I.C.E and potentially lead to deportation.
Regardless of this alarming trend, many are trying to reverse lunch shaming. At a federal level, New Mexico’s Hunger-Free Student’s Bill of Rights Act is being pushed a national level with bipartisan backing. However, many people who have seen this lunch crisis firsthand have started working from the ground up. Kenny Thompson, who previously worked in a Houston area school started the organization Feed the Future Forward after he witnessed students being cold cheese sandwiches after having negative accounts. So far, his aims have been successful as its rid students of over $30,000 over food debt. Feed the Future Forward also requires the schools that they donate to not provide any sort of alternative meals to students who are in debt, one of the main facets of lunch shaming.
Many parents who have witnessed the peers of their children suffer through lunch-shaming have started go fund me’s and other online platforms to eradicate this problem. However, with over half of all school districts practicing lunch shaming, these grassroots efforts have a long way to go.