Birthdays need to be filled with only wonderful recollections. Particularly for a 9-year-old’s birthday, there should be happy times spent with friends and relatives.
Sadly, in September 2019, a little child’s birthday at school was ruined. Surprisingly, it wasn’t bullies in the class who were responsible for the incident. The young boy’s wonderful day was ruined by school employees.
According to ABC15, in August 2019, Jefferson Sharpnack moved to Ohio to live with his grandma. He and his brothers registered for the “free and reduced” lunch program at the school. Jefferson didn’t give putting food on his plate much thought because everyone appeared to be in good spirits. He assumed that lunch would go according to schedule and that he would also get a birthday celebration.
But then everything turned nasty. As they approached Jefferson, the cafeteria staff removed food from his plate. Jefferson was confused and angry at the circumstance. While adults may not be traumatized by such an occurrence, a 9-year-old maybe if they are treated with similar disrespect by adults.
According to Jefferson, “I received my cheesy breadsticks and put in my number.” And when I was about to go, the lunch woman quietly removed my cheesy breadsticks and sauce, placed them over there, and pulled out some bread topped with cheese from the refrigerator to place on my tray.
This had been Jefferson’s worst birthday ever, and he told his grandmother as he returned home while crying. The incident involved an unpaid $9 amount on a lunch bill, which was discovered by his grandma Diane Bailey.
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Bailey made a lot of angry calls to The Green Primary School. She was saddened that the circumstance caused her grandson to feel such embarrassment. Although it is within the school’s rights to collect a debt, the cafeteria staff’s actions were disgusting.
He owed nothing, in my opinion. I owed the parents, the school district, and the money, Bailey said. I also want to know if they have to throw away the food if they take it off your tray. You’d remove the food off the tray, but you can’t reserve it? Are you not going to feed the child and throw it away? I don’t get that at all.
Bailey’s complaints appeared to be effective. The district’s then-superintendent, Jeffrey L. Miller II, quickly announced a new rule, according to The Washington Post: “All kids enrolled in PreK through twelfth grades would get the normal lunch for the day at their respective buildings regardless of their account balance.”
A district representative responded to The Post’s inquiry about the move by saying, “Our administration felt strongly that the time to make a change in our lunch standards was now, and the change took place today.”
A larger discussion over “lunch shaming” at schools is started by Jefferson’s story. In spite of the fact that it is ultimately the responsibility of the parent, schools around the nation made headlines in 2019 by blaming students for not paying their lunch bills.
Due to their parent’s income, about 20 million students receive free lunches that are state-subsidized, according to the PBS Newshour.
Some students are required to pay for their meals, but many don’t, leaving institutions responsible for the cost. As a result? According to The Newshour, 75% of schools are in debt for meals of some kind, with some debts reaching as high as $865,000.
The issue was explained by Crystal FitzSimons, director of school and after-school programs at the Food and Research Action Center (FRAC), in an interview with the Newshour.
The “great majority” of schools, according to FitzSimons, do not punish students for skipping lunch, but some school districts have pushed the cost onto the backs of children and their families, who frequently lack the funds to do so. This is the point at which some institutions publicly shame students for not repaying their debts.
FitzSimons said, “There are many children that… slip through the cracks within the school nutrition program, and we really think that it’s critical for schools — if a family is falling behind in paying school meal debt, that it’s really important for schools to take a look at whether or not the family is actually qualified for free school meals.”
The No Shame at School Act, legislation from U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, was introduced in 2019 to address this issue. The proposed legislation would effectively outlaw lunch shaming and require schools to speak with a parent or guardian about food debt rather than humiliate a student. As of September 2021, despite the fact that the bill has been created, it has not moved on to the next stage of the legislative process.
Sharpnack’s birthday might not have been as unhappy if the law had been in effect when he went out to lunch in 2019.
What do you think about lunch shaming? Do you know anyone who has experienced lunch humiliation? Please let us know, and don’t forget to spread the news so that we can hear from more people.