Texas State Representative Helen Giddings wants to help make our school cafeterias a kinder place.
She recently proposed a Texas bill that would make it unlawful for schools to single out students who have little to no money in their lunch account. Her actions are all in an effort to end a cruel practice in public schools called “lunch shaming,” where children who lack lunch money often have their hot meals thrown away in front of them — since they don’t realize it until they’re at the checkout line.
Last week, a handful of Texas lawmakers attempted to pull the bill off of the legislative calendar. So Giddings took to the House floor and gave a rousing speech explaining how critical this bill is to the children who regularly encounter lunch shaming.
“This morning, Mr. Cain, Mr. Rinaldi, Mr. Tinderholt, Mr. Stickland and Mr. Biedermann knocked off House Bill 2159, which was intended to give some students relief from going hungry at lunch, to keep them from being embarrassed, to keep them from being labeled,” Giddings remarks. “That bill, for those food-insecure children, deserved a debate on this House floor.”
In her speech, Giddings also shares a statement from local Texas teacher Kelvin Holt, who described seeing a young student denied lunch. “One of my 4 year olds slid her meal tray down to the cashier, in order to pay for her meal, but instead what she heard was an emphatic, ‘You have no money,’ followed by the removal of her meal tray,” Holt’s statement says.
Holt also shares the emotional toll this experience had on the young girl. “The student then sat at the table assigned to her class and was inconsolable for the next 20 minutes, while her classmates enjoyed their meal,” he says.
Giddings’ speech has paid off, as Texas State Senator Larry Taylor added her legislation to a bill that would require a routine study of school lunch participation in Texas. That bill passed in the Senate last week and is now up for consideration in the House.
In a statement shared in The Dallas Morning News, Giddings says, “I cannot tell you the response that we have gotten for this. Members of the House have come up to me crying because they were food insecure growing up.”
Lunch shaming is not only an issue being addressed in Texas — it is also a nationwide conversation. Last month, New Mexico passed the first legislation of its kind in the country that bans shaming students whose parents are behind on lunch payments. A Pennsylvania school cafeteria employee also made headlines last year when she quit her job after being forced to take two hot meals away from young students. And just this past week, a Washington father of three raised money to cover the $21,000 of unpaid lunches in his son’s Seattle school district.
While there is potential for a Congressional bill that may outlaw lunch shaming across our country, it is only in the early stages — which means that the more we publicly discuss this countrywide problem, the better chance it has for being changed.
As a stepmom to an 11-year-old public school student, I cannot even begin to understand why lunch shaming has become an acceptable practice. And while my stepdaughter has not had her lunch taken away before, she has had moments where cafeteria employees have publicly scolded her for not having funds in her account the few times we forgot to add money. She’s come home upset and embarrassed over a problem that should not be hers to deal with in the first place.
To punish impressionable children for something they cannot — and should not — control is just not right. And as parents, we need to do better by our kids to ensure a shame-free environment in their schools. We need to check in with our children about their lunchroom experiences. We also need to talk openly about lunch shaming with the people who run our public schools, so that our children can feel empowered and safe in the educational home they reside at for much of the week. We need to keep this conversation going.
Many thanks to politicians like Helen Giddings for fighting to create a more loving environment, and future, for our children.