One student at Desert Cove Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona, was running low on lunch money, and the unusual way the school let his parents know has people outraged after a tweet detailing the incident went viral.
The lunch money account of Tara Chavez's son was getting low on funds March 30, which was when a staff member in the cafeteria gave him a stamp on his wrist with the words "Lunch Money" in large black letters. Her son would usually come home with a slip of paper to remind her to refill the account but the stamp was something new and it left her son feeling very embarrassed, according to Chavez.
"He was screaming and crying the entire time. He was humiliated, didn’t even want me to take a picture of it,” she told BuzzFeed News.
Chavez then emailed the school's principal, Stacey Orest, to comment on the incident. The principal's response, obtained by BuzzFeed, read, in part: "[The staff member in the cafeteria] doesn't want the students to be embarrassed either so she is supposed to ask them if they want a stamp or a reminder slip."
"My kid’s really weird about stuff like that," Chavez told BuzzFeed, "so I asked if he was given a choice by the lunch lady and he said, ‘No, she just grabbed my wrist and put the stamp on.’”
Juan Fortenberry, a friend of Chavez, posted a picture of the stamp on Twitter April 1, with his accompanying commentary, which soon went viral.
Other users quickly responded with similar stories of "lunch shaming," proving that Chavez's son's stamp wasn't an isolated incident.
Indeed, according to the Phoenix New Times, students who are victims of lunch shaming can start skipping meals altogether.
"Lunch Shaming" is common across the country.
In many cases, a student's situation is far more dire than a parent simply forgetting to add money to their account. Stories about hot lunches being snatched away from students are common, and in one high school in Indiana, students whose parents owed money were served — as "shame sandwiches" — cheese on bread.
Parents and students alike are concerned that these sorts of practices immediately identify low-income students to their peers. As one high school senior in Indiana described an incident she witnessed to Yahoo News, “It’s high school — no one knows why you don’t have the money in your account, and they’re going to assume things.” Protests over the embarrassing policy led to one cafeteria worker at a Pennsylvania school to resign.
The outrage in Phoenix has already had an impact with the stamping policy being reversed at Desert Cove Elementary.
"Paradise Valley Unified School District spokesperson Becky Kelbaugh says that Desert Cove will no longer use 'reminder stamps' to notify parents when their children’s school lunch accounts are running low," according to the Phoenix New Times.
There's also a non-profit called Feed the Future Forward, which started in response to the nationwide practice of lunch-shaming. However, it remains to be seen whether policy changes are on the horizon outside of Paradise Valley School District but the conversation that's ignited around the subject is a start.