This is not a big issue in the Delta, as most public schools, under federal rules, qualify to provide all of their students with free lunches, regardless of family income.
In more prosperous areas, though, the meals aren’t free for kids whose families can afford to pay. Nationwide, according to a recent Associated Press story, the families of about a third of the children in the school lunch program are expected to pay all or part of the cost.
That has led to a controversy about the techniques some schools have been using to persuade families that are behind on their kids’ lunch bills to pay up. One common technique has been to give these children a cold sandwich rather than a hot meal, but that has prompted an outcry, claiming it is unfair to shame a child over a parent’s failure to pay. Because the meals are different than those for the children who get theirs free or whose lunch accounts are current, it makes it obvious whose parents are behind.
The schools, though, have to have some leverage. If they don’t do something, what’s the incentive for the delinquent parents to ever pay?
Besides, children need to understand that not paying your bills can be ostracizing in the adult world, too. You lose credit, you get sued and you may be named in legal notices published in the newspaper.
Not every lesson learned in school is pleasant, but many of them are nevertheless valuable. If “lunch shaming” teaches children about being responsible for their debts, that’s not terrible.