Nice Time! Schools -- And The Feds! -- Rethinking That Whole 'Starve Poor Kids' Thing
You want some withering sarcasm with that, hon?
Could it be there's an end in sight to the long-running series of stories about schools shaming poor kids whose families fall behind on lunch money, as at least some states and schools are finally starting to push back against the practice of feeding kids only a cheese sandwich, dumping their unpaid-for lunch into the trash in front of the whole cafeteria, or putting a Shame Stamp on a kid's hand or arm. Dare we hope that's a trend?
Among some hopeful signs noted by the PBS NewsHour: In April, New Mexico passed a state law prohibiting schools from shaming kids whose parents are in arrears on lunch accounts, requiring that schools make arrangements directly with parents and that kids will be served a healthy, balanced meal regardless. The California state Senate passed a similar bill in May. Texas -- yes, Texas, for godssake -- has even put in place a "temporary grace period" to allow kids to have regular lunches while lunchroom debts are worked out with parents, although the NewsHour summary didn't say exactly what happens after that. It's Texas, so we'd assume summary execution (a recently-passed law will let delinquent accounts be paid by food banks, actually. A version of the bill that would have mandated schools feed kids regardless of debt was shot down by the state Freedom Caucus, because being assholes to children is fine as long as they're poor kids).
At the federal level the Department of Agriculture will require school districts to adopt clear policies for dealing with school lunch debt and to inform all parents of the policies at the beginning of the school year. Unfortunately, because local control is so very important and the age of Michelle Obama's nutrition tyranny is over, that's all schools will be required to do:
The agency is not specifically barring most of the embarrassing tactics, such as serving cheap sandwiches in place of hot meals or sending students home with conspicuous debt reminders, such as hand stamps. But it is encouraging schools to work more closely with parents to address delinquent accounts and ensure children don’t go hungry.
“Rather than a hand stamp on a kid to say, ‘I need lunch money,’ send an email or a text message to the parent,” said Tina Namian, who oversees the federal agency’s school meals policy branch.
So shaming poor kids is still allowed if there's a written Shame Policy. We hope Ms. Naiman doesn't get in too much trouble with the higher-ups for suggesting a less punitive approach. Perhaps we should just count our blessings and be glad schools won't be required to serve Trump Milk.
While kids who are very poor qualify for free school lunches, the problems with shaming kids often hit families that are just above the poverty line -- they make a bit too much for free or reduced-priced lunches, but may be juggling multiple bills and miss a lunch payment. And then comes the Shame Food: According to a 2014 report, 39 percent of districts give kids whose accounts are unpaid a cheap meal with no attempt to meet nutrition requirements -- often the cheese sandwich of shame, a slice of American on dry white bread, because condiments are for closers -- while another six percent of schools just let the little debtors go hungry, to learn them a lesson.
The New Mexico law, called the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act, was sponsored by Democratic state Senator Michael Padilla, who as a child spent time in foster care and remembers all too well how his public school in Albuquerque gave him a Full Gingrich: To earn his school lunches, he had to sweep and mop the cafeteria. Somehow, the opportunity to be shamed doesn't appear to have instilled in him a sense of personal responsibility for his poverty:
It shouldn’t be that way [...] This should not have to be a thought for a child.
In the Las Cruces school district, where until recently high schoolers were turned away from the lunchroom if their account was empty, the head of food services, Nancy Cathey, said the new law is likely to drive up the cost of unpaid meal accounts, since kids can't be turned away. Last year, before the law was adopted, the unpaid total was $8,000, which doesn't strike Yr Wonkette as a budget-buster for an entire school district, but then, we're not the ones who have to balance the schools' budget.serving free lunches to all students, even those who can afford it, because they're a bunch of wild-eyed socialists. Feed kids and they'll learn better. If they learn better, they'll be less likely to be poor. Or at the very least, less likely to be hungry, which is a good in itself. Yes, we know: That kind of thinking eventually leads to socialized medicine and then concentration camps.
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