This School Is 'Tattooing' Kids Who Run Low On Lunch Money And We're Horrified

Mustafa Gatollari - Author

Nov. 18 2019, Updated 2:14 p.m. ET

cover lunch

If you want to piss off a super rich politician who's backed by corporations, tell them that our tax dollars are feeding children in public schools.

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From Betsy DeVos to Paul Ryan, there are more than a few Republicans out there who seem to have it out for hungry kids. So much so that free-lunch and snack programs are being cut because, well, I guess these kids' parents should just make more money to give them food and teach them about proper nutrition. Never mind the fact that many students from low-income areas rely on these meals as the primary source of their nutrition. Never mind the fact that when I worked in the school system, I had kids confess to me that they kind of dreaded the weekends and school breaks because they didn't know how they were going to get their next meals.

Despite the fact that the US could totally afford it, school districts are being forced to become more and more strict with enforcing their lunch payment policies, so they've developed some pretty creative ways to make sure kids aren't getting grub. For example, swipe cards with account balances, or not allowing kids to have hot lunches unless their payments are up-to-date. This leads to an upsetting reality: if you're unfortunate enough to be low-income and in public school, you could very well be "lunch-shamed."

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But this school's lunchroom-shaming tactic caused a ton of outrage online as kids with low balances are being physically marked.

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Tara Chavez spoke about the incident in an interview with BuzzFeed. She recounted how her son came home one day with the mark on his wrist. He didn't bring it up until she asked him about it, and that's when he described why the lunch lady had grabbed his hand and stamped it. His lunch account was low and instead of sending a notice home or contacting his mother, the school implemented a policy where children were branded for not keeping their accounts up to date.

"My kid's really weird about stuff like that, so I asked if he was given a choice by the lunch lady and he said, 'No, she just grabbed my wrist and put the stamp on. I was surprised. Normally I get a slip in his folder when he needs more money." 

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Tara's friend posted a photo of the embarrassing stamp online, and the outrage was immediate.

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Others pointed out that the stamp system is nothing new, but there were definitely better ways to go about it.

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Chavez emailed her son's school, Desert Cove Elementary in Arizona, inquiring about the stamp. The principal responded, saying that staff is supposed to ask children whether or not they want a take-home slip or a stamp, so as not to embarrass the kids. Tara went on to say that she wants her son's school to recognize the impact this kind of branding could have on children.

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And as someone who grew up poor, I have to agree. Going to school and not having the same nice clothes or cool snacks as the other kids really upset me. So much that when my family finally started to get a little bit of money, we went crazy and blew it all on all the stuff other kids had. 

If it was a cute little stamp, or they turned it into a game, that's one thing. But you don't have to remind my 7-year-old ass that my parents are broke, why the hell do you think I walk around pretending I'm Nightcrawler from the X-Men during recess?

Imagine if banks started doing that to adults when their account balance is low? Insane, right? So why is it cool to do this to kids?

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