New Mexico Outlaws School ‘Lunch Shaming’

What is “lunch shaming?” It happens when a child can’t pay a school lunch bill.

In Alabama, a child short on funds was stamped on the arm with “I Need Lunch Money.” In some schools, children are forced to clean cafeteria tables in front of their peers to pay the debt. Other schools require cafeteria workers to take a child’s hot food and throw it in the trash if he doesn’t have the money to pay for it.

In what its supporters say is the first such legislation in the country, New Mexico has outlawed shaming children whose parents are behind on school lunch payments.

On Thursday, Gov. Susana Martinez signed the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights, which directs schools to work with parents to pay their debts or sign up for federal meal assistance and puts an end to practices meant to embarrass children. It applies to public, private and religious schools that receive federal subsidies for students’ breakfasts and lunches.

The law’s passage is a victory for anti-hunger activists, who have long been critical of lunch-shaming practices that single out children with insufficient funds on their electronic swipe cards or who lack the necessary cash. These practices can include making the child wear a wrist band or requiring the child to perform chores in exchange for a meal.

From: New Mexico Outlaws School ‘Lunch Shaming’ – NYTimes.com

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32 thoughts on “New Mexico Outlaws School ‘Lunch Shaming’

      • I wouldn’t want to lay this all (or mostly) down at “Calvinism’s” feet. I assume that at least some of the shamers weren’t “Calvinists” and that most cultures have their own mechanisms for shaming others and for determining whether the shaming was fair or not. I suppose you can protest that you said only “vulgar” Calvinism–the sort that hasn’t read Institutes of Christian Religion. Even so, most cultures have their own “vulgar” or not-thought-out versions of shaming.

        I also question to what purpose the accusation of “vulgar Calvinism” is used. Is someone who claims shaming is bad going to believe it’s good because they were called Calvinists? I doubt convincing them or people on the fence was the intention. Instead, it seems like a way to smear a group of people of a certain religious or cultural background. If the religion or culture were swapped, different people would be offended, and rightfully so.

        I’ll grant that maybe it’s different with Calvinism. In the American context at least, “Calvinists” have it pretty good and are probably more likely to be the smearers/attackers than the ones smeared or attacked. That’s a point I ought not lose sight of.

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  1. Here I was expecting it to be about children doing the shaming. How icky — not to mention childish — that adults would do things like this. (And another good argument for automatic universal free lunch.)

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      • I think it’s that the gubmint is taking the place of the parents and the community which is wrong. Also, per Paul Ryan, gov programs are soulless and care for the children’s needs which can be better met by family and community.

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      • My kids are in public schools w/ universal free lunch. The program started about eight years ago as a federal study aimed at testing whether giving everybody a free lunch reduced stigma. I have no idea what is being learned, but unfortunately it began at the same time the feds required changes to all subsidized school food to make it less edible. (You can find protests from that time period; my suspicion is they removed salt) So a lot of kids stopped eating the food at the time, and more kids w/ planning parents brought sack lunches. Universal free lunches that few kids eat doesn’t cost much.

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        • While I appreciate the sentiment of giving kids healthier fare for school lunch, you gotta be smart about it. Kids are already terribly picky eaters, even when their parents try to expose them to good food. And doing something like cutting out salt (or sugar, or fat) sounds pretty faddish, which never turns out well.

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    • Lots of places manage without free lunches without descending into pointless cruelty. The western canteen model is designed to be overpriced with bad food quality. In Singaporean schools, canteens have a few stall spaces which are auctioned off to commercial providers (usually just individual owner/cooks) who bid for the rent and who compete with each other. Food tends to cost less than a dollar usually or at most a dollar fifty. And students can choose to bring their own. And I’ve known teachers to personally “lend” (usually the debt is forgiven if its one-off and a more permanent solution is looked for if it happens more often*) their students money.

      Even on this hyper capitalist model, students don’t clean tables or was dishes in order to pay for their meals!

      *A basic meal would cost under a dollar. So the student or their family must be undergoing much more serious problems if the student repeatedly is unable to afford to eat. If people are that poor, there are social assistance programs.

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  2. “Lunch shaming” is a concept i could have lived my life just fine without ever hearing about. But, to be fair, on the other hand…..never mind that…..some adults are just jerks.

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    • There are also (allegedly) some schools in the UK where teachers confiscate “insufficiently healthful” lunches, on the grounds that kids going home hungry will teach their parents to do better, or some such.

      I was a picky eater as a kid and I carried my lunch and I would probably just stop eating lunch altogether had a teacher done that to me.

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  3. When I heard about this a couple of days ago, I started crying. It could have been the pregnancy hormones, but I think it is because it’s so horrible! When my son’s lunch account at school gets to $0, I get an automated call telling me to put more money in his account. Why would you do it any other way?!

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      • Of course I understand some parents can’t pay. I think that’s seperate from how you notify people. After they have been notified in privacy, then you deal with parents regarding the debt, not the child.

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    • The school with the stamp sends out e-mail reminders, puts notes in folders, and multiple robo-calls before resorting to a smiley-face stamp with a $ sign. Some parents can’t be bothered.

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      • Can’t be bothered or can’t afford to pay? If you’re resorting to the stamp, you are missing the larger issue which is clearly in need of a conversation. And let’s say the parents just refuse to pay even if they could, I’m not willing to make that the child’s problem. Feed that kid!

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        • Basically, the end of the school year was approaching and the father was too lazy or busy to put a few dollars in the account or call the school or put a block on the kid’s purchase of treats that was depleting the account. The bureaucrats didn’t want negative account balances at the end of the year to explain.

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  4. I give it a 99.9% probability that the adults behaving badly were doing so in the heirarchy of a social construct. That’s where you find the social control freaks willing to do stuff like this.

    Social animals…..what some people are.

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  5. My kids’ charter school in New Orleans offers free, healthy lunches to all students.

    Another big point for school choice, despite what some might think.

    Speaking of which, a certain former blogger blocked me today on Facebook because I made an innocuous claim about research methods that neither confirmed nor refuted his own claim (which was, incidentally, incoherent).

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  6. This is what happens when you have non-representative government.

    How many of the elected officials who supported this bill have children receiving free or reduced lunch?
    How many of the elected officials who supported this bill were ever on free or reduced lunch?
    How many of the elected officials who supported this bill grew up in poverty?
    How many of the elected officials who supported this bill were ever shamed by adults tasked with caring them for things far beyond their control?

    If you remember your own childhood as one where you walked up hill to school both ways and paid for your own lunches by selling the energy generated by repeatedly pulling up your own boot straps (don’t worry, this generates plenty of CO2 for the atmosphere to choke on), it is really easy to assume everyone who isn’t doing this is not only deserving of shame, but requires it to motivate a similar level of work ethic.

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    • From the fact that the bill passed, I’d say probably “enough” elected officials had those experiences or were sympathetic to those who did. As I understand it, the bill *outlawed* lunch shaming. It didn’t endorse it.

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    • I wonder whether the policy flowed from school administrators or from the school board.

      For instance, was it budgetary concerns from the superintendent that pressured staff to do something about the lunch debt? Or was it pressure from the school board over the same issue?

      Because I’ll be blunt — some of the people elected to school boards are crazy. And that’s when they’re not incompetent too. I watched one utilize a contractor to validate resumes and references for a superintendent job then fail to read them, hire someone the firm had noted down had been previously fired from her last two jobs, and then watch as it collapsed into the most insane CF I’d ever seen.

      She had “good ideas”, apparently. Even though she’d been fired from her last two jobs for exactly the crap she pulled there.

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      • “some of the people elected to school boards are crazy”

        QFT. (Also city councils, HOAs, any kind of petty bureaucracy – tends to attract the wannabee dictators).

        Why not have, I don’t know, a discretionary fund that people could contribute to, where teachers or school administrators could quietly pay the debt of kids whose parents can’t pay? I’ve heard of lunch ladies paying for the lunches of kids who can’t afford them but I’m guessing lunch ladies are not exactly rolling in dough themselves, based on how schools I’ve known seem to pay support staff.

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