The debate on lunch shaming has prompted school districts to enforce policies that are consistent with past Jim Crow laws. As a result, school districts will continue the ostracization of students and their parents. Schools districts will need to evaluate the historical events that have led to lunch shaming before they are identified as an organization associated with past Jim Crow laws.
National attention has been bought to a local school board in Cherry Hill New Jersey. Students who did not pay for their lunch were first denied lunch unless they paid first. After national outcries on how this type of treatment wronged students, school boards were forced to develop policies regarding lunch shaming.
According to the American Bar Association, “lunch shaming” refers to the overt identification and stigmatization of any student who does not have money to buy a school meal. While the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) narrowly applies this overt identification to students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch, in practice legal lunch shaming occurs against students whose family income exceeds free or reduced lunch eligibility thresholds. The purpose of lunch shaming is to embarrass a student and parent(s) so that a school lunch debt is paid quickly, in turn reducing a school’s financial burden.
This embarrassment is a form of control that is consistent with the Jim Crow Laws. Jim Crow laws were constitutional provisions that mandated the segregation of public schools, public places, and public transportation, and the segregation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains for Whites and Blacks. Segregation was meant to make Whites feel superior to Blacks. This is the same outcome that school districts are enforcing on parents and students.
For example, in Cherry Hill New Jersey, the local school board has made it permissible for a student to receive a hot lunch with strings attached. Students who are unable to pay their lunch bill will be denied the opportunity to attend their prom or participate in extracurricular activities. This solution to lunch shaming is consistent with the focus of the Jim Crow Laws.
This problem is associated with the privatization of lunch delivery in schools throughout New Jersey. Without such a policy, private organizations are unable to make a profit which in turn means that they will eventually go bankrupt. Schools are under pressure to ensure that students are feed and are able to save the school district monies.
Instead of saving money, schools should withdraw any food service contracts and once again make it an important part of the school’s operation. Serving food is more important than providing students with the feeling of security.
Abraham Maslow developed a psychology theory called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in 1943. The base of the pyramid shows basic needs that are imperative to maintain health and normal functioning including food and water. These basic needs are required for survival! The second level is security. According Maslow’s hierarchy on needs, food takes a priority over security. Therefore, schools should trim their budget for security before allowing students to become involved in the lunch shaming process.
Eliminating lunch shaming should take priority over school security because “There is pretty solid evidence that children who are hungry are not able to focus, so they have a low attention span, behavioral issues, discipline issues in the school,” said Sibylle Kranz, an associate professor of kinesiology and a registered dietitian nutritionist. “Having children who are well-fed and not hungry makes a difference in their individual performance, and also how much they are contributing to or disrupting the classroom situation.”
One of the primary tenets of the Jim Crow Laws was to deny Blacks their basic needs. They accomplished this by providing alternatives that were either exclusionary or lacked the same standards as Whites. Schools board members that choose to participate in lunch shaming or other exclusionary tactics need to either resign from their positions or provide local taxpayers with a rebate.
We have reached a sad day in our society when the only alternative to help students results in lunch shaming tactics that are consistent with the Jim crow laws.
All the best,
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 4707 Cherry Hill, NJ 08034
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