Last month at a school in Arizona, a cafeteria worker stamped a second-grader's arm with the phrase "lunch money" after it was discovered he didn't have enough money in his meal account. "He was humiliated," his mother tells BuzzFeed. Elsewhere in the country, children who find themselves in meal debt have been forced to clean tables or watch as their food is thrown away. These punishments have come to be known as "lunch shaming." "It sounds like some scene from Little Orphan Annie, but it happens every day," Jennifer Ramo tells the New York Times. Ramo is the executive director of the nonprofit group behind a new law banning lunch shaming in New Mexico.
The Hunger-Free Students' Bill of Rights was signed into law this week. It's believed to be the first law of its kind in the US. The bill instructs schools to work with parents on getting lunch debts paid without doing something to publicly embarrass students. The Democratic senator who introduced the bill says he was forced to mop the cafeteria in school because he couldn't afford lunch. He says it was clear to the other students that he was "one of the poor kids." The law, which applies to any school that gets federal money for meals, also requires students be fed even if they're behind on payments, the AP reports. "We have to separate the child from a debt they have no power to pay," Ramo tells the Times.