Earlier this year, New Mexico became the first state in the nation to ban the practice known as “lunch shaming.” We can all be proud of the coalition of state lawmakers and advocates who championed the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights, which prohibits schools from publicly singling out or punishing students – even withholding regular school lunch – because a parent or guardian hasn’t paid a school meal bill.
But in nearly half of all U.S. school districts, school officials still are allowed to punish students by forcing them to wear wristbands, assigning them chores, and even making a display of taking away a meal from a child after it has been served.
It’s time to ban lunch shaming everywhere, and that’s why I’m leading bipartisan legislation in Congress to prohibit this practice nationwide. We can’t expect our kids to succeed in the classroom when they’re hungry and face public embarrassment at the hands of school officials. And this week, as kids head back to school in New Mexico, I’m again speaking out.
Instead of lifting up all students, lunch shaming accomplishes the exact opposite. Singling out students whose parents are unable to pay stigmatizes the most vulnerable kids. Extra school chores take students away from schoolwork and classmates. And, worst of all, the practice can stand in the way of a child’s only healthy meal of the day.
Ultimately, states and school districts must take the lead. But because they have been slow to act, I believe the federal government should step in and do what it can to prevent this practice. My Anti-Lunch Shaming Act would ban schools nationwide from using public shaming tactics against children by:
- Explicitly prohibiting schools from forcing kids to wear wristbands or hand stamps, requiring chores, or throwing a child’s meal away because their parent or guardian hasn’t paid a school meal bill; and
- Requiring schools to direct any communications about meal debt to the parent or guardian, and not to the child.
And because every child who needs a school meal should get one – even if they don’t have the money to pay for it – the bill also would take steps to simplify and improve the process for applying for free and reduced-price lunch.
In the United States, 13 million children live in households struggling with food insecurity; and in New Mexico, it’s nearly one in three. We should be doing everything we can to change that terrible statistic. Let’s put an end to lunch shaming once and for all. And let’s devote our energy to building a future where every child can concentrate on learning – without worrying about his or her next meal.
United States Senator