Michael Padilla is a state senator from New Mexico. As a child, he spent many of his school days mopping floors so he could have lunch. He befriended cafeteria workers for a piece of bread or a left over sandwich. Padilla grew up in foster homes where lunch money was an exception (NPR).
Della Curry made national headlines a few years ago as a cafeteria worker in Aurora, CO who gave lunch to a child who was crying because she didn’t have lunch money and she was hungry. The act of a good Samaritan was defined by district and federal policy as stealing. Curry was fired (NPR). Scott Simon wrote, “The school district says students from poor families can qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Curry says those programs overlook students from families who may struggle, but don’t quite qualify — if that’s the word — as poor” (NPR).
Stacy Koltiska was a cafeteria worker in Pittsburgh, PA. Last year she quit her job when she was forced to take lunches away from two students and replace them with sandwiches because the families owed more than $25. These were elementary students. High school students don’t even get the sandwich. Koltiska posted to facebook her experience with the school district. Remembering the day, she said “His eyes welled up with tears. I’ll never forget his name, the look on his face” (CBSnews). Koltiska said what these children experience is humiliating and embarrassing, and she fought for this practice of so called lunch shaming to stop.
Earlier this year, Padilla introduced legislation in New Mexico which would prevent any child from being lunch shamed. When the bill was introduced, he read about other schools and policies of lunch shaming.
Some provide kids an alternative lunch, like a cold cheese sandwich. Other schools sometimes will provide hot lunch, but require students do chores, have their hand stamped or wear a wristband showing they’re behind in payment. And, some schools will deny students lunch all together (NPR).
School districts practicing lunch shaming would use this stamp on a child’s arm. It says, I need lunch money.
Padilla’s bill – the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act, which became law in April, requires the USDA, which administers the federal school meal program, to require all school districts have a written policy on how to deal with students who can’t pay for their lunch, or have an outstanding balance with the district. Since the introduction of this bill, Padilla has heard from lawmakers from other states who are interested. California state Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D) introduced the Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act.
New York took a different approach to the problem. Beginning fall 2017, free lunch is available to all 1.1 million students, regardless of income level. Seventy five percent of students in NY already qualified for free or reduced lunch (NY TImes).
The new initiative reaches another 200,000 children, saving their families about $300 a year per child. These additional lunches are not expected to cost the city more money, thanks to the federal Community Eligibility Provision program, under which schools that offer free lunch and breakfast to all children are reimbursed based on students’ poverty level. By taking advantage of the federal Community Eligibility Provision, schools can increase reimbursement for meals — thus wiping out meal debt — while they improve nutrition, eliminate stigma and cut administrative costs. (NY TImes).
New York City joins other cities such as Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and Detroit who have put an end to lunch shaming. Unfortunately there are still too many districts still employing barbaric practices of lunch shaming. Humiliating a child for being poor is a horrific practice. I applaud districts for working with district, state, and federal policies to eliminate such practices.
These are my reflections for today.
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