Saturday, May 20, 2017

Rosa DeLauro: It’s time to stop shaming students when their parents can’t pay the lunch bill

  Last spring, a third grader in an Alabama elementary school walked into the cafeteria to get lunch. But because his lunch account was running low, he was stamped on the arm by a school employee with the words “I need lunch money” for all his peers to see.

  Across the country, schools are using similar tactics to humiliate students with outstanding lunch bills. According to a troubling 2014 report from the United States Department of Agriculture, almost half of all school districts used some form of lunch shaming to get parents to pay outstanding bills. These tactics range from making children clean the cafeteria, to forcing them to wear a special wristband, to replacing their hot lunches with alternate food, to throwing away a student’s lunch right in front of their eyes—and the eyes of their peers.

  School lunch debt is not an isolated problem—76 percent of school districts have kids with school lunch debt, according to the School Nutrition Association. But stigmatizing children by singling them out in these cruel and public ways is a complete betrayal of our values as a nation. No child in America should be shamed by their school for their parents’ economic situation.

  For many of our most vulnerable children, school lunches provide their most nutritious—or in some cases, their only—meal of the day. Good nutrition gives children a solid foundation for the rest of their lives. It builds their brains, aids the development of their immune systems, and sets them on course for healthy growth. But when children do not receive nutritious food, we see instances of poor academic performance, especially among elementary-age children in math and reading.

  Instead of shaming children or putting their health on the line, schools should work with parents to find solutions for the underlying issue. Fortunately, there has been some progress to stop this abhorrent practice. In March, New Mexico passed the first law in the United States to prohibit lunch shaming, setting an example the rest of the country should follow.

  That is why I am proud to join Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) to introduce the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act, which would ban schools from singling out children because their parents have not paid their school meal bills. The bill would prohibit shaming tactics, including the practice of throwing a child’s meal away rather than extending credit for meals. It would shift direct communications about debt to the parent, not the child. This is how it ought to be—a child should not be a go-between for an institution and a parent.

  The time has come to ensure that students no longer walk into the cafeteria afraid of humiliation. We have a moral obligation to end lunch shaming once and for all.

  About the author: Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro is the Congresswoman from Connecticut’s Third Congressional District. She is the Ranking Member on the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, and she also serves on the subcommittee responsible for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

  This article was published by

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