Lunch Shaming in the United States

Lunch Shaming Under Scrutiny in the United States

With the spread of lunch shaming, people have become more vocal of their opposition. Let’s get to the bottom of this issue in this article.

Lunch Shaming Meets Fierce Opponents

Schools handle unpaid lunch money differently. And one of the least popular methods includes refusing to give students a hot meal. A Rhode Island district was prompted to stop toying with the idea of serving cold sandwiches to children whose parents had not paid off their debts. The move came after a torrent of negative phone calls and comments. The officials from Warwick Public Schools said that the protest was global. In all honesty, these practices do not come as a surprise. But they have been subject to scrutiny lately.

As “lunch shaming” is gaining fierce opponents, let’s see what everyone should know about this topic.

What Occurred in Rhode Island?

According to Catherine Bonang, students in this district would receive a meal that was not on the regular menu — cheese sandwiches. This would make everyone realize who owed money to the school. Then, the district decided that they needed to make things less obvious. Thus, they opted for sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches. And these were a part of the everyday menu.

But the outpourings of criticism changed everything. Namely, the officials decided that all students would be able to choose from a range of hot meals. Also, they would no longer forbid those with unpaid meal charges to participate in different activities, including field trips and dances.

Is Lunch Shaming Widespread?

It is not easy to determine just how prevalent it is across thousands of schools. However, most districts claimed that they had unpaid lunch money in 2011. This research was conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And this particular office supervises the federal school lunch program. It was common for most of them to give alternative meals. Among these were peanut butter and jelly or cheese sandwiches. Some districts went as far as to withhold grades for those who had debts.

Is Lunch Shaming Illegal?

Back in 2017, New Mexico enforced a law against lunch shaming. After its decision, some states followed suit. Among them were Iowa, California, and Oregon. These laws forbid schools from coercing students to do chores or stamping their hands. But providing alternative meals does not seem to be banned per se. The proponents of this law state that children should never experience hunger in school. With that in mind, no one should shame them by giving them a different meal.

Moreover, federal lawmakers drafted an “anti-lunch-shaming” legislation. It aimed to shield students who owed money to the school. Also, the USDA is against any practice that would stigmatize pupils. Nevertheless, it allows each district to impose their own set of policies.

Alternative Meals Might Be a Method of Shaming

Furthermore, Aniece Germain did not remember to pay for lunch one time. As a result, her son received a sunbutter sandwich. Germain was morose when her son requested to know why she had not paid for his meals. Apart from this, the school charged her $2.50 for that sandwich — this was the price of a hot meal as well. She went on to say that the primary purpose of this practice was to shame children and make parents pay.

Germain and her family reside in Cranston, which is close to Warwick. After this incident, the school is no longer providing alternative meals.

Who Is Under the Influence of Lunch Shaming?

The school lunch program caters for about 30 million pupils. And around 20 million of them are eligible for free lunches. In addition, 2 million get a meal for 40 cents. Those remaining, about 8 million of them, do not have any benefits and have to pay the full price. And children who have unpaid lunch money are subject to lunch shaming.

Why Some Families Aren’t Able to Pay for Lunch?

Many believe that a child should not be punished regardless of whether their parents could or couldn’t pay for their lunches. The families fail to pay for them for various reasons. Some are teetering on the edge of poverty — even though they do not qualify for any amenities. As for others, they feel it is humiliating to accept any help, or they just do not know that they are eligible for a free lunch.

What’s more, Warwick officials announced that those who were eligible for free lunch owed $12,000. They had incurred these charges long before the district approved their applications. Another organization, the School Nutrition Association, stated that they believed that free lunches for all students would put a stop to any confusion.

How Troublesome Are Unpaid Charges?

A few years ago, the USDA claimed that lost revenue was only a small percentage of the overall spending of a school’s food program. However, the truth is that situations can differ. In fact, the School Nutrition Association voiced their opinion that unpaid charges posed a national issue. After their closer look, they concluded that debt was higher in those places which accepted anti-lunch shaming policies.

For instance, officials in Maine believe that the new law will increase the costs for local districts. As for Cranston, they went as far as to use a debt collector back in January. Here, the debt was $90,000. Michael Crudale said that families were more prone to paying if they received a warning from a collection agency. This is when they finally understand how serious everything is. By Crudale’s admission, they would receive these letters every 30 days, and they would stop once the school year finished. The district erases the debt once the year ends.

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