New Mexico just passed a law banning “lunch shaming,” one of
the first U.S. states to do so. Lunch shaming is defined as punishing
or humiliating a student who cannot afford school meals. Before the ban,
schools were doing things like having kids mop the floor or wear wristbands
if their parents couldn’t afford to pay for lunch meals.
The law was passed largely as the result of a group of campaigners and
politicians, including a state senator, Michael Padilla, who grew up in
a series of foster homes and could understand the humiliation poorer students suffer.
Schools struggle to find the money to pay for these lunches, reporting
an average lunch debt of a few thousand dollars. Some schools have a lunch
debt as much as $4.7 million. In different states, also, schools try to
find a way to recoup the cost, including refusing to give hot meals or
refusing to give any meals at all. One school in Alabama sent a child
home with writing on his arm saying “I need lunch money.”
The New Mexico legislature passed a bill called the Hunger-Free Students’
Bill of Rights and Susana Martinez, the Republican governor, just signed
it. It makes it illegal to embarrass the students for being unable to
pay for their own meals. Additionally, it makes it easier for low-income
families to apply for free meals and makes schools contact them directly,
rather than relying on the student as a go-between. Likewise, it requires
every school to serve every child a healthy meal, which applies to all
schools, public and private.
The head of the office of budget management for New Mexico, Mick Mulvaney,
actually defended cutting the food grants for the afterschool and preschool
schemes, which were designed to help students struggling financially.
According to Mulvaney, the grants were supposed to be improving child
education, and there was no “demonstrable evidence” that being
fed actually helps kids do better in school. Campaigners were quick to
point out children who are hungry are unable to concentrate and improve
their academic performance.
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