Ban Lunch Shaming in New Jersey

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In nearly half of America’s school districts, schools are shaming and punishing students because their parents or guardians are unable to pay for their child's lunch bills. In some cases, schools are ordered to withhold lunch. In other, more severe cases, lunch shaming is used; schools publicly single out these children by forcing them to wear wristbands, assigning them chores, or taking away their meal after it has been served to them. Children face the embarrassment of being branded by bracelets or stamps when they are denied the “good lunch” in their own school cafeterias. As a high school student, I know that this horrific practice negatively disrupts a child's life, often leaving permanent scars.

When I was 15, I founded the Lunch Crisis Organization which operates on the basis of three main objectives: raising money towards erasing students’ lunch debt, raising awareness about lunch shaming, and bringing change to the public school lunch system. Though I was able to raise over $13,000, it proved to be merely a band-aid for this crisis -- real change, change on a legislative level, must be more permanent.

To bring this permanent change to the public school lunch system, New Jersey and its legislators need to create and pass a bill that will consist of acts to outlaw the cruel practice of lunch shaming and ensure that federal meal assistance is an easier process. New Mexico’s Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights outlaws lunch shaming and directs schools to work with parents to pay their debts or to sign up for federal meal assistance. With New Mexico being one only a few states to pass a bill that has effectively impacted the lunch system, it is my hope that New Jersey will be the next.