New Mexico Bans Schools From “Lunch Shaming” Kids With Insufficient Funds

The Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights would prevent children from being punished for meal fees.

Credit: NPR

“Lunch shaming” will soon become a thing of the past in New Mexico thanks to the efforts of Senator Michael Padilla and activists in the state. Signed last week by Governor Susana Martinez, the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act combats practices such as trashing hot lunches when students’ accounts are empty or forcing them to do chores to pay off debt. Additionally, it requires that all students have access to the same lunch and that schools in the state must assist students in signing up for free and reduced-price lunches.

Jennifer Ramo, executive director of New Mexico Appleseed, the organization the spear-headed the initiative, explained the bill by stating:

Children whose parents or caregivers owe money for school lunch will no longer have to miss meals or face public embarrassment in front of their peers. No child should be forced to wipe down cafeteria tables or throw away a meal because of a debt. We’re urging Governor Martinez to make New Mexico a leader in the fight against child hunger by signing this first-of-its-kind legislation.”

In many states, it is not uncommon for a child to be handed a piece of bread, possibly with some cheese in between, when they are notified that their school lunch account is empty. This is not only embarrassing for the child and their family, it may be detrimental long-term as poverty is increasing in the United States, and a growing number of families rely on school lunches to nourish their children.

The bill was introduced by the Sen. Padilla because he knows first-hand what it’s like to be shamed for lack of funds in a school lunch account. As a child, he says he mopped the cafeteria floors to earn his school lunch. He also befriended the cafeteria workers so he wouldn’t have to go hungry, reports NPR. Padilla elaborated:

“I grew up in foster homes, multiple foster homes. It’s very obvious who the poor kids are in the school.”

The Democratic lawmaker continued that it is unfair to shame kids who have insufficient funds in their lunch accounts because until they are old enough to start working part-time, there is little to nothing they can do to resolve the situation.

“A 6-year-old maybe up to about an 11- or a 12–year-old, a 14-year-old, they have no power to fix this issue and to resolve this,” Padilla said. “If their parents have debt in the lunchroom, then that is not something that they have control over, and I don’t know why we’re punishing them. So this prohibits that — it outlaws that — and it focuses more on the child’s well-being rather than the debt itself.”

The first-of-its-kind law will hopefully cut down on incidences such as the one that occurred in 2015 when a cafeteria worker was fired for feeding a first-grader who didn’t have enough money. Reportedly, Padilla has already been contacted by politicians in other states who would like to model new legislation after his bill. 

“So I think you’re going to see this kind of move its way across the country,” Padilla concluded.

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