Hunger-free Stu­dents’ Bill of Rights Act Passed in New Mex­ico

Trillions - - In This Issue -

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.

Photo by us­dagov, CC

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