Hunger-free Students’ Bill of Rights Act Passed in New Mexico
Research from the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health shows that nearly half of the children in the United States live dangerously close to the poverty line or below it. This means that many parents can’t afford to send their kids to school with a lunch or even pay for the low-cost lunches available at many schools.
To compound the problem, children who are unable to pay for their lunch have been publicly shamed, humiliated, punished or otherwise traumatized by cruel school officials and employees.
One example of school cruelty towards kids is the Desert Cove Elementary School in Arizona, where they would stamp the words “LUNCH MONEY” in big, black letters across children’s arms.
Schools in New Mexico forced children to throw their lunch in the trash if they couldn’t pay for it.
Now, children in New Mexico will no longer need to fear being publicly shamed when their parents cannot afford to pay for school lunches.
The Hunger-free Students’ Bill of Rights Act, signed into law in April by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, changes all of that.
In the past, if those student lunch bills were unpaid, some of those students had to wear a wristband labeling them as unable to pay. Others were required to do work for the school to help pay for the meals.
Now, instead of acting primarily as antagonists against the children who were not at fault in being unable to pay, the schools must work with parents who cannot pay on finding alternative means to meet those payments. These can include arranging payment plans or assisting the parents in applying for federal meal assistance, where available and possible.
The law still allows schools where parents have not paid these bills to withhold transcripts, revoke parking passes or hire collection agencies to seek those payments from the parents. But now the pressure is on the parents, not the students, and the law protects children from shaming or public embarrassment.
The push behind the bill came from State Senator Michael Padilla, a Democrat from Albuquerque. He grew up in foster care and said he hoped to prevent the current generation from experiencing the embarrassment of being seen publicly as poor to their fellow students.
There is hope for other states as well: New United States Department of Agriculture rules will require schools to report their policies for when kids can’t pay for lunch.
It is sad that a nation as rich as the United States and that can somehow afford to spend $1 trillion a year on its war industry can’t help more poor kids get a free lunch.