New Mexico has become the first American state to take a legal stand on "lunch shaming" students who don't have money to buy lunch. The tales of lunch shaming are not scarce — students have reportedly been stamped, forced to wear a wristband, had their lunches tossed out, or even told to perform chores in lieu of a meal.
Now, thanks to the Hunger-Free Student's Bill of Rights, kids can eat lunch without a side of humiliation.
Signed into law by Governor Susana Martinez, and introduced by Senator Michael Padilla, the legislation aims to use other methods of settling a tab with parents and guardians that doesn't involve the kids.
"A 6-year-old maybe up to about an 11- or a 12-year-old, a 14-year-old, they have no power to fix this issue and to resolve this," Padilla, who mopped cafeteria floors in exchange for a meal, tells NPR. "If their parents have debt in the lunchroom, then that is not something that they have control over, and I don't know why we're punishing them. So this prohibits that — it outlaws that — and it focuses more on the child's well-being rather than the debt itself."
This law bans schools — public, private, and religious schools that receive federal money for student meals — from throwing away lunches that have already been served to students who don't have money and making kids work to pay off the debt. It also requires schools to help students sign up for free or reduced-price lunches.
School meal debt is a prevalent problem across the nation. More than 75 percent of American school districts had debt when the 2016 school year ended, according to the School Nutrition Association. The amount of meal-related debt ranged from a couple thousand bucks to $4.7 million.
But with a higher percentage of students living in poverty, the New Mexico law helps keep children more food secure and shame-free in front of their peers.