“It’s borderline bullying:” New Mexico becomes first state to ban so-called ‘lunch shaming’

NEW MEXICO — Lunch time is the best time of the day for many students, but for others, it can be a humiliating and shaming experience. A troubling trend called “lunch shaming” is on the rise. When a student doesn’t have enough lunch money, school officials are taking away a child’s hot food, and replacing it with a cold sandwich, or sometimes, no food at all.

13-year-old Addison Re doesn’t talk about that day at lunch at school, but her dad does.

“What a kick in the face that would be for a kid, you know?” Don Re said.

Re explained what a cafeteria worker did after realizing Addison owed money on her lunch account.

“The woman took her tray of food from her and set it aside and offered her a cold cheese sandwich and a white milk,” Re said.

Re said his daughter was humiliated — in front of everyone.

“It’s borderline bullying in my opinion,” Re said.

It’s called “lunch shaming,” and it happens in more schools than parents realize. According to the School Nutrition Association, 76% of school districts across America have students with school lunch debt. Even though the average school lunch costs about $2.50, administrators said schools don’t have the funds to absorb the debt, so in many districts, when a student can’t afford their lunch, they get an “alternate meal,” which can be very different.

Critics say it only turns school lunch into a lesson in ridicule.

“So it’s very clear what your home life is like to the other kids,” Michael Padilla, D-New Mexico Senate said.

And it gets worse. Posted online are photos of children bearing what look like school ink stamps on their arms and hands demanding payment — literally branded.

“It’s shocking that this is even a thing that’s still going on,” Padilla said.

For Padilla, it’s personal. Growing up, he know poverty and hunger. Now a state senator, he has spearheaded legislation that makes New Mexico the first state in the country to ban any kind of lunch shaming.

“Once in a while in the legislative process we get something right — and this is one we got right,” Padilla said.

Padilla said officials in 21 other states have reached out to him to see what they can do, and an identical bill has been introduced into Congress, which could bring a federal law so that no student should ever again have to face a choice between hunger or shame.