School 'Lunch Shaming' Outlawed in New Mexico

(New Mexico) -- "Lunch shaming" happens when a child can't pay a school lunch bill and they are punished by being stamped on the arm or even forced to clean cafeteria lunch tables.

In Alabama, a child who couldn't pay for their lunch food was stamped on the arm with "I Need Lunch Money." Some schools even make children clean cafeteria tables in front of their peers to pay off the debt. Other schools require the cafeteria workers to throw away a child's hot food if they are unable to pay for it.

New Mexico has outlawed shaming children whose parents are behind on school lunch payments, and supporters say that this is the first such legislation in the country.

On Thursday, Gov. Susana Martinez signed the Hunger-Free Students' Bill of Rights, which directs schools to work with parents to pay their debts or sign up for federal meal assistance and puts an end to practices meant to embarrass children. Public, private and religious schools that receive federal subsidies for students' breakfasts and lunches are all affected by this law.

“People on both sides of the aisle were genuinely horrified that schools were allowed to throw out children’s food or make them work to pay off debt,” said Jennifer Ramo, executive director of New Mexico Appleseed, an anti-poverty group that spearheaded the law. “It sounds like some scene from ‘Little Orphan Annie,’ but it happens every day.”

Eli Andrade