Monday, May 1, 2017

Lunch Shaming

Shaming Children So Parents Will Pay Lunch Bill:

Holding children publicly accountable for unpaid school lunch bills — by throwing away their food, providing a less desirable alternative lunch or branding them with markers — is often referred to as “lunch shaming.”
The practice is widespread — a 2014 report from the Department of Agriculture found that nearly half of all districts used some form of shaming to compel parents to pay bills. (About 45 percent withheld the hot meal and gave a cold sandwich, while 3 percent denied food entirely.)
A Pennsylvania cafeteria worker posted on Facebook that she had quit after being forced to take lunch from a child with an unpaid bill. In Alabama, a child was stamped on the arm with “I Need Lunch Money.” On one day, a Utah elementary school threw away the lunches of about 40 students with unpaid food bills.
Hazel Compton, 12, remembers being given a sandwich of white bread with a slice of cheese instead of the hot lunch served to other children at her Albuquerque elementary school. (A school district spokeswoman said the sandwich met federal requirements.)
LOL. There is nothing anywhere in the Department of Agriculture's guidelines that says two slices of Wonder bread, a slice of cheese, and some ketchup meet the daily nutritional requirements of a school lunch. No one operating on more than a brain stem would make such an assertion (which I assume explains the Albuquerque school district spokeswoman).
Oliver Jane, 15, said that when she had meal debt at Shawnee Heights High School in Tecumseh, Kan., she was told to return her tray of hot food and was given a cold sandwich instead.
“If you didn’t eat the lunch, they were just going to throw it away,” she said. “It seems unfair to me to expect a bunch of kids to be responsible for putting money in their lunch accounts when they don’t even handle their own funds.”
Marty Stessman, superintendent of the Shawnee Heights Unified School District, said that younger children were allowed to take a limited number of meals despite debt, but that high school students were not.
“Notices are sent home automatically when they go below $5, so it shouldn’t be a surprise,” Dr. Stessman said. “They should know before they get to the cashier.”
Jawohl, Herr Superintendent! (eye roll) I'm pretty sure only an idiot would correlate the "notice going home" with the student having any idea whether the balance has been paid. Expecting the kid to know and therefore avoid the lunch line completely is beyond cruel and unusual, frankly, unless your idea of a healthy lunch is white bread, cheese, ketchup, and a side of shame.

Free lunches require paperwork on behalf of student's families that oftentimes gets lost or never completed. And for free lunches to go district-wide, the district itself must meet a 40% threshold of free lunch qualification.

Here in Athens-Clarke County, we are on year three of totally subsidized meals for every student in the county K-12. While our free lunch percentages are just over the minimum (41%), our free or reduced lunch number is closer to 80%. We are now one of 75 school districts in the state of Georgia where kids eat breakfast and lunch for free.

Since I had always paid for my kids to eat lunch at school, I wasn't aware that "shaming" on behalf the lunch ladies was actually a thing. It would seem if you were going to badger or shame anyone, it would be the parents. But resorting to Go Fund Me campaigns to pay off lunch debt seems extreme as well.

If you read the comments in the article, it's shocking how unsympathetic the readers are (even for the so-called liberal New York Times) to the plight of these kids. Most are referencing the two girls' weight featured in the story with a lot of "seems like they should skip a meal or two!" derogatory comments. Several are weighing in about "teaching them a lesson in responsibility" and other conservative tropes.

Pathetic. One reader made an excellent point: free lunch should be a part of the public school experience just like free textbooks, free heating and air, and free safety. It's always been ironic that students are required, by law, to be held captive for seven hours during the day in school, but they make you pay to nutritionally survive the experience. 

At the end of the day, the fastest way to stop this lunch shaming nonsense is give all students a free lunch. I realize that won't happen anytime soon in today's political climate, but it sure as hell should happen one day.

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