Being a kid is hard enough, but add poverty and public shaming into the mix, and you’ve got a situation no child should ever have to be in.
School policies for dealing with students who have overdue lunch balances or who simply don’t have the money to purchase lunch on a given day can be surprisingly brutal. Stories range from kids having their hot lunch literally thrown in the garbage in front of them and being told to make a peanut butter sandwich, to being stamped on their arms with reminders to bring lunch money the next day.
Now obviously, a lot of schools simply don’t have the budget to cover the lunch costs of every student (and it’s estimated that 75 percent of school districts have outstanding student meal debt, so the problem is widespread). But these very public lunch-shaming actions cause kids emotional distress, which can be magnified by the fact that many of them are either living in poverty or have parents who are neglecting to make sure their lunchtime needs are taken care of. But — thank goodness — it looks like these heartless policies are starting to change.
New Mexico has passed a law that requires the school to contact parents directly about any unpaid meal debt, and the kids there would still get a meal even if they can’t pay that day. The California Senate has passed a bill that would make it unlawful for schools to deprive kids of meals, and in Texas, kids are going to be given a grace period where they can still receive lunches while the school settles their debt with their parents.
Hopefully, other states will catch on. Because when you have to worry about doing your homework, navigating ever-changing social dynamics and keeping up good grades, the last thing any kid should ever have to deal with is being stamped in front of their peers for not having enough money to eat.