A couple of months ago I received an email from my 7-year-old daughter's school letting me know there was a $12 balance in her school lunch account. Given that my girl is a proud recipient of an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Nobel Prize in picky eating, she always brings (and never buys) lunch at school. That's why I assumed someone mistook what had to be a credit for a balance, and promptly deleted the email.
However, another email arrived shortly thereafter, this time informing me the balance had doubled. That's when I asked my daughter if she had, in fact, been buying lunch. As it turns out, she discovered she likes the pancakes the cafeteria serves on Breakfast for Lunch days, and when she tells them she's allergic to tomato sauce (she's not), they let her have plain pasta on other days. It took me another couple of weeks to get around to dropping off a check for her lunch bill—and in that time, her balance doubled again. Yet despite her lunch account having a negative balance, no one ever stopped her from eating or said a word to her about money owed. Thank GOD.
Thank God, too, that my daughter doesn't go to Gardendale Elementary School in Alabama, because a third-grader there also had a balance, but instead of just emailing his parents (which they didn't even do), someone decided it was appropriate to put a stamp on his arm that read, "I Need Lunch Money."
It's never OK to shame a child over food or lunch money, as if anything associated with either is ever their fault.
The school's principal defended the stamp by saying the lunchroom department "regularly uses emails, notes, stickers and stamps to notify parents of a low account balance," according to US News and World Report. The principal also said the stamps and stickers are for when parents fail to respond to written or electronic correspondence. (Too bad it's so hard to pick up the phone and make a call. Oh, wait—it's not.)
Understandably, the boy's parents felt as if he had been "branded ... It's a form of bullying and shaming the kids," his dad told AL.com, even though his school defended the stamp by saying it wouldn't mark "any child whose parents told the school not to do so." Yet does a school really need to be told to not literally mark up the body of a child whose parents owe money, even if their parents say it's OK (and exactly who these parents are that would say it's OK is a whole other topic).
Unless a school is desperately poor and literally hurting for pennies, does it really matter if a few dollars (or tens of them, even) are missing from the cafeteria's coffers? Is a glass of milk, piece of fruit and a serving of macaroni and cheese really worth potentially embarrassing a child over? (The answer is NO, by the way. It's never OK to shame a child over food or lunch money, as if anything associated with either is ever their fault.) Furthermore, aren't schools supposed to be teaching kids about not bullying or pointing out another person's shortcomings or differences? How is a scarlet letter on an 8-year-old a means to that end?
If my kid's school wants to shame me because I fail to sufficiently monitor my child's lunch account — or for any reason — bring it on. I'm an adult; I can take it. But to go through (or on) my small child? I guarantee you a mark will be left in the end, and it will be on neither my child nor me.