Children are not known for their stellar organization skills and long-term memory. Unless we’re talking about the time you said that maybe one day soon you guys would go get slushies, in which case they will remember the exact phrasing of such a musing and remind you incessantly. But school stuff? Homework folders? Parent-teacher conference schedules? Mrs. Teacherlady asked for help restocking her Kleenex collection during flu season? It’s like they hear it and then release it into the ether, never to think of it again.
Schools know this, and they contend with it any number of ways. An email that reminds parents that yearbooks are available to order. A phone call to remind you that the lunch money account is low. A note slipped into a backpack that asks you to please sign that permission slip — oh God please it’s due tomorrow. That sort of thing. One school in Alabama uses an ink stamp with a smiley face and a single-phrase reminder: “I need lunch money.”
And it has seriously pissed off one dad.
The dad, Jon Bivens, has a son who just completed third grade. With just a few days left in school, the boy came home with a lunch money stamp on the back of his hand, and seeing his kid’s skin temporarily inked has Bivens really upset.
He likened the stamp to a cattle brand, a fitting analogy, he says, because the elementary school his son attends “[herds] kids like cattle,” and he claims it was a way of bullying and shaming kids with no lunch money. The fact that the school didn’t call him to let him know his son’s account needed a top-up before they stamped his hand impedes his parental rights, Bivens claims.
With all due respect to Dad, maybe there’s an alternate explanation here.
The old sticker or stamp routine is one teachers and schools employ because it works. Think about it: If you have a kid about that age, how many Spirit Day or Career Day or Grandparents Day events did you learn about well after the fact? After you finally braved the den of the rat king otherwise known as your child’s backpack to find a wadded-up note stuck to the bottom with what you hope is a coagulated Tootsie Roll informing you that your child needs to bring X, Y or Z to school with them last March 3?
A stamp, on the other hand, can’t be folded into a cootie catcher or used to wrap gum in. It doesn’t go to voicemail or get caught in a spam folder. It’s just there, a nice little insurance policy for a child’s goldfish memory, with the added benefit of being a stamp, which kids go inexplicably bonkers for. That’s why parents use them on outings for kids with special needs or allergies in case they get separated. Children don’t prioritize boring crap like “I need more lunch money” or “dairy gives me diarrhea” until they’re a smidge older, so you literally stick the information directly onto them. It’s less a brand than it is a red string tied around a finger, but with less risk of tourniquet syndrome.
Still, if a stamp on your kid’s hand bugs you, it bugs you. It might be one of those things that just rubs you the wrong way, or maybe you have a child with a sensory thing who might not relish the idea of an ink mark that takes a few days to wash off. Maybe you’re low income, and you’d prefer to not have your child’s hand function as a walking billboard to the fact that sometimes you have to go in the red so they can eat and then square up later.
All of that is fine. In Bevins’ case, it’s more than fine, according to the principal, Laura Ware. She told a local news outlet that the stamps are the second step of a two-step process. First come the emails, and if those go unanswered, out come the notes home, stickers and stamps. She also said that if a parent isn’t OK with a hand stamp, the school will respect that. The only caveat, of course, is that you have to ask.
At the end of the day, if it seems like an elementary school is herding cattle, that’s because they kind of are (though we tend to think the phrase “herding cats” is more apt). With hundreds of kids and an almost universal shortage of teachers, schools have to get creative with communication. They could spend all their time on repeated emails or phone calls, or they could pop a smiley stamp onto a hand and then, you know, teach.
Some teachers and school staff do abuse their power and bully kids. It’s unacceptable when it happens. We’re just not sure that that’s what’s happening here.
Before you go, check out our slideshow below: