A school district in Warwick, Rhode Island has decided that students whose parents owe “lunch debt” for their child’s food will be served cold sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwiches instead of a hot lunch. School board officials say the controversial move is thanks to the district being saddled with almost $80,000 in debt, but parents are livid.
Outraged parents point out the plan shames poor children and won’t do anything to tackle the district’s debt (the district even rejected a restaurant owner’s offer to donate $4,000 to pay off some kids’ delinquent funds). Some are pointing out that because the parents are the ones who owe money, it makes no sense to punish children.
“I just don’t think it’s fair to hold the kids responsible,” one parent told WLNE. “I think it’s embarrassing to the kids because now everyone’s going to know why these children are receiving the lunch that they are.”
And that’s the main problem with lunch shaming programs like this. The burden of being poor and hungry is a heavy weight to carry already, but adding the public stigma opens kids up to bullying, too.
A local restaurant owner tried to pay the students' debt so they could eat the same meals as their classmates. School administrators in Warwick, RI rejected her offer, opting instead to shame students for their parents' debt. What lesson will the children learn? https://t.co/z0EEGO75Bo— Connie Schultz (@ConnieSchultz) May 8, 2019
Other schools have tried similar lunch shaming plans in the past, forcing kids to wear stamps or bracelets or even throwing their lunches away in full view of their classmates when cafeteria workers find out kids can’t pay. A handful of states have banned lunch shaming practices to prevent kids from being singled out at school.
Folks on Twitter were equally outraged and many shared their own stories of the shame that comes with being on a free or reduced lunch plan, let alone one comes with a public shaming.
It's awful being the kid in this situation. The school staff treats you differently and show little sympathy, as if it's YOUR fault that there is no money in your account. https://t.co/06Dd9H3meL— Drake (@DrakeWimberly) May 9, 2019
I was on free/reduced lunch and if that wasn’t embarrassing enough (no one knew who was on it, just the shame of being like “oh we are indeed poor”) I cant imagine being handed a sandwich when it chicken finger day. This country is evil. In the smallest and most grand ways.— Danez Smith (@Danez_Smif) May 9, 2019
I read this at work today, and it broke my heart. I remember being that kid. I'm not sure that some folks understand how much damage this does, and I'm not just talking about nutrition. I'm also talking about the longterm harm this does to a child's self-worth. (thread) https://t.co/h3BKl00cQS— Charlotte Clymer?️? (@cmclymer) May 9, 2019
Ugh. I skipped lunch all throughout middle school because I was on the reduced payment program & they made us flash this pink laminated badge of shame. What bitter, cruel asshole would make this decision? https://t.co/HbxM4ttSr0— Caissie St.Onge (@Caissie) May 9, 2019
As a kid who received free school lunches, my BIGGEST fear was that the students standing in line behind me in the cafeteria would find out.— Marissa D. Barrera (@mdb2) May 9, 2019
This is bullshit. https://t.co/ZIC2JBOF9d
For many poor children, free and reduced school breakfasts and lunches are the only food they get during the week. Some kids get food on the weekends, thanks to charity programs, but many kids still go hungry in between Friday afternoon and Monday morning.
There’s an easy solution to the problem—give all kids at school a free lunch and pay for it by taxing wealthier Americans. Children don’t learn as well on an empty stomach and well-fed kids suffer fewer health problems. Additionally, free lunch for all children would place them on the same plane, removing any stigma from a free or reduced lunch program. Also, it just seems like common sense to provide kids with the energy they need to get through the school day.
Unfortunately “lunch shaming” is just another heartbreaking example of how our country is failing kids.
If we're going to rely on schoolkids to tackle heavily armed mass killers, we could at least give them a hot meal https://t.co/km9gjJQewL— Chip Stewart (@MediaLawProf) May 9, 2019
h/t: Washington Post