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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