Following the publication of my front page New York Times article on “lunch shaming” this past Monday, there have been some developments worth sharing with you:
First, the New York Times editorial board has just published a forceful condemnation of the practice, which appears both online and in today’s print paper. It begins: “The humiliation inflicted on children whose parents are late paying school lunch bills — or are too poor to pay them at all — is a national disgrace.”
Several readers have also shared with me a new video about lunch shaming that’s making the rounds on the Internet. Astonishingly, it’s garnered over 32 million views – just since Tuesday:
The video depicts a child made to do chores because of meal debt, a disturbing practice which has likely fueled the viral reaction.
But it’s important to note that it’s actually illegal under federal law to make a child who qualifies for free or reduced price lunch do work in exchange for a meal. And even for children who don’t qualify for those benefits, the practice could also violate state or local child labor laws. Based on my own reporting, I believe that making debt-ridden kids do chores – while not unheard of – is likely rare. The far more common practice is the substitution of the hot meal with a cold alternative, usually a cheese sandwich.
In general, the reaction to both Times stories on lunch shaming has been remarkable:
- Many local newspapers are now investigating and reporting on their local districts’ meal debt practices.
- Numerous New York Times readers have written to me personally to share their experiences with lunch shaming, either as parents or as teachers in impoverished schools. Many have also asked me how to donate to help alleviate the problem.
- One of the two high school boys who started School Lunch Fairy, a meal-debt charity cited in my story, wrote to tell me that they’ve received over $500 in new donations just this week.
- A writer has started a Mother’s Day-related campaign on Twitter to help alleviate meal debt:
- A Change.org petition in support of an anti-shaming bill in the Texas legislature has topped 110,000 signatures.
As I said in my post here on Monday, I sincerely believe that school food departments are not setting out to intentionally humiliate children. Instead, the problem of lunch shaming is just one more manifestation of the extremely tight budgets under which school food programs are expected to operate.
But under a USDA directive, states and districts are in the process of evaluating and formalizing their meal debt policies right now, in advance of a July 1st deadline. And school food directors are most certainly aware of the current public outcry over practices that single out kids in the cafeteria.
Whether that public censure is reflected in their written policies remains to be seen. I’ll of course keep you updated here.
Do you love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Follow TLT on Facebook and Twitter! You can also subscribe to Lunch Tray posts, and be sure to download my FREE 40-page guide, “How to Get Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom.”