Lunch Debt and Shaming in Schools

Sep 19th, 2017 • Category: Featured

By Eleanor Hedges Duroy, age 14

A student at Washington-Lee High School, in Arlington, Virginia. Wikimedia Commons / Bob Nichols

A student at Washington-Lee High School, in Arlington, Virginia. Wikimedia Commons / Bob Nichols

In recent months, schools across the United States have denied students school lunches. Instead,  they punished students who have lunch debt by throwing out their food in front of peers, provided cold small sandwiches in lieu of a hot meal, stamped children’s hands with a reminder to pay, and/or asked students to wash tables in front of their classmates to humiliate them because of their debt.

These practices are known as “lunch shaming” because the goal is to embarrass the child and thus hopefully force parents to pay the debts. Lunch shaming has become more frequent as schools feel pressure from funding cuts. The problem is that school lunch debt is not the child’s fault, but the child is the one who receives the public punishment. Jenny Ramo, director of New Mexico’s Appleseed Project, told the New York Times, “We have to separate the child from a debt they have no power to pay.”

Individuals and state governments are taking a stand against lunch shaming. In Palm Beach County, Florida, high school students Christian Cordon-Cano and Bernardo Hasbach started School Lunch Fairy, a crowdfunding site to collect donations for nearby school districts suffering from lunch debt. In Texas, legislation provides a grace period in which children receive school lunch while officials help parents make payment plans.

However, the problem needs national congressional attention. The Trump administration’s recent  school budget cuts and reductions in healthy lunch requirements seem to indicate that American students will remain vulnerable.

In recent months, schools across the United States have denied students school lunches. Instead,  they punished students who have lunch debt by throwing out their food in front of peers, provided cold small sandwiches in lieu of a hot meal, stamped children’s hands with a reminder to pay, and/or asked students to wash tables in front of their classmates to humiliate them because of their debt.
These practices are known as “lunch shaming” because the goal is to embarrass the child and thus hopefully force parents to pay the debts. Lunch shaming has become more frequent as schools feel pressure from funding cuts. The problem is that school lunch debt is not the child’s fault, but the child is the one who receives the public punishment. Jenny Ramo, director of New Mexico’s Appleseed Project, told the New York Times, “We have to separate the child from a debt they have no power to pay.”
Individuals and state governments are taking a stand against lunch shaming. In Palm Beach County, Florida, high school students Christian Cordon-Cano and Bernardo Hasbach started School Lunch Fairy, a crowdfunding site to collect donations for nearby school districts suffering from lunch debt. In Texas, legislation provides a grace period in which children receive school lunch while officials help parents make payment plans.
However, the problem needs national congressional attention. The Trump administration’s recent  school budget cuts and reductions in healthy lunch requirements seem to indicate that American students will remain vulnerable.
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