A recent article in the New York Times about cafeteria staff publicly lunch shaming children at school over their parent’s unpaid school lunch bills left me feeling so shocked that public schools allow this practice to occur.
Students throughout the country report being publicly humiliated when their lunch bills are not paid. In some instances children watch as their hot lunch is thrown in the trash bin, and they are handed a cold cheese sandwich in its place. In other cases, and even more distressing, children are refused lunch altogether, or receive a stamp on their arm that says “I Need Lunch Money.”
There are a great many injustices that occur every day, but in a country as wealthy as America, it is truly appalling that we allow any child to go hungry on any given day. Beyond the ethical and moral obligation we all have to care for the children we serve, refusing to feed a child who is hungry is unnecessary. Throwing a hot lunch in the garbage, rather than giving it to a hungry child, is a cruel and indefensible practice.
The New York Times reported that a cafeteria aide in Pennsylvania quit after being forced to throw away a child’s lunch. I imagine many more have taken a similar stand against lunch shaing. Now we all need to take a stand for these children and the cafeteria staff and other educators who refuse to follow such policies, as we also do for all who are bullied.
We know that children need to eat nutritious food to provide their bodies and brains with the fuel they need to be able to focus, learn, and excel in school. Lunch shaming and refusing to feed lunch to children who have unpaid cafeteria bills harms them physically, and emotionally, and can negatively impact their academic achievement as well.
How can we create caring, compassionate environments for children and youth to excel in school when we refuse to feed them when they are hungry? Further, as Molly shared in a recent article for our friends at the American School Counselors Association, how can children learn to treat each other with compassion and respect when we fail to demonstrate it ourselves?
We can and must do better!
Elizabeth Kolodny serves as Operation Respect’s Program Director.