children in cafeteriaLunch shaming, a modern term for a very old, cruel practice among school children, refers to any practice that places blame on children whose parents either can’t afford to pay for lunch bills, or who are behind in their payments.

Yes, It Really Happens
In some states, schools actually put visible stamps on children’s arms, or make the wear special wrist bands, when their parents are delinquent with paying the lunch bill.

One school in New York had been tossing food into the trash while students, whose parents were not current on lunch fees, went without meals. It’s not unusual for some East Coast grade-schools to have children do manual labor, like cleaning the cafeteria and taking out trash, when their parents haven’t paid for their lunches in advance.

Very Sad Situations
In two especially cruel cases, one school had a written policy that “no-pay” students who came through the lunch line were to be given plain cheese sandwiches and nothing else, instead of the hot lunches on the menu.

In a different school, where cafeteria workers were told to not serve the “no-pay” students, a kitchen employee paid for several lunches out of her own pocket, only to be fired by the district for breaking the policy guidelines about “not serving” certain students. Even though the cafeteria employee in question had been with the district for well over a decade, she was still terminated abruptly for breaking the rules about whom to serve at lunch time, according to the Huffington Post (see complete link below).

A Solution to the Lunch Shaming Problem
In New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo has come up with what looks to be an effective way to cut down on the “lunch shaming” problem, according to the state’s own website (see link below).

The five-point plan is intended to end lunch shaming, a practice the Governor says is nothing more that a cruel practice that publicly humiliates kids whose parents can’t afford to pay for regular lunches.

Breakfast and Lunch Without Shame
One key component of the plan is the expansion of free meals to include breakfast. Cuomo feels strongly that no student should ever have to eat sub-standard food, or be denied a regular lunch, because their parents can’t afford the meal. Because he also thinks breakfast is vitally important as a way to begin the school day, the Governor also wants New York schools to serve breakfast to any student who did not eat at home before coming to school.

The New York plan, which Cuomo recently detailed in his State of the State presentation, also includes provisions that help schools purchase farm-fresh produce from local New York farms. Another part of the “No Student Hungry” plan that the Governor is advocating includes a rule that bars any school employee to do anything that humiliates a student who can’t afford lunch.

Food Pantries to Alleviate Hunger
Cuomo proposed, as part of the larger student lunch and breakfast plan, to require all New York CUNY and SUNY schools to maintain food pantries on-site as a way to have a back-up supply of goods that could alleviate any shortage, and to make sure that every student who wants a lunch or breakfast can have one free of charge.

As a start, the Governor has proposed a $1 million fund allocation for the establishment of food pantries that will be used exclusively for preventing “lunch shaming” among students in the State of New York. Several other states have already taken a cue from Cuomo and begun exploring ways to make sure that breakfast and lunch are available to all who want them, regardless of payment status.

Learn More About This Topic
Sources, and where to look for more information about lunch shaming and the proposed NY laws to remedy the situation: