How would you react if your child was publicly shamed like this? More
Schools should be places where children can form wonderful lasting memories. They should be institutions that not only teach, but foster creativity and see each student as an individual, not just a number. We’re all expected to spend the majority of our formative years here. So these experiences should be nurturing, not traumatizing.
I mean, there’s enough traumatizing from the kids on the playground, so there’s no need for more in actual school, am I right?
Of course, part of nourishing children intellectually involves nourishing them physically. School lunches are a big part of the educational experience. Even if some look far, far better than others. Foods are the building blocks of the body, and your brain is a part of your body, so food is the building block of your brain, which is required to do well in school. Food isn’t just tasty, it helps make you smarter and grow.
School lunches became the focal point of a controversy at Gardendale Elementary School in Alabama. John Bivens’ son came home sporting a stamp on his arm. At first, Bivens thought it was for good behavior. After all, why else would he have a stamp on his arm? He assumed he must have aced a spelling bee or excelled in kickball. But it wasn’t for anything positive, unfortunately. The real reason would set him into a rage.
No, that stamp wasn’t anything encouraging. Bivens soon realized that stamp wasn’t placed there for positive reasons at all. Even though there was a smiley face, it was used to soften the blow. And it was indeed a blow to the boy, who was quite upset with what had happened. The text underneath the smiley face shocked and angered the father. It read, “I Need Lunch Money.” Not the message any parent would want on their child.
Who stamped this on the child? It was the school. Why on Earth would they ever do such a thing to a young student of theirs? You see, Gardendale Elementary has a system in place for school lunches. It’s similar in ways to many modern school lunch programs. Each student is given an account for their lunches that parents can place money into whenever they want. This way, the students don’t have to carry cash around themselves.
The students each have an account. This account is used specifically for school lunches. It’s quite a clever idea, and teaches children how money is used and spent electronically, which is the norm in this day and age. The students just give their account info and are able to purchase food items. When the money in the account runs low, parents are usually alerted by email. The key word in that sentence, of course, is “usually.”
Bivens said his son typically brings lunch from home, but occasionally likes to buy ice cream or other treats. Gardendale Elementary School Principal Laura Ware said she was unaware of this incident. But she did state that the school uses multiple methods of informing parents of low lunch account funds, including emails, notes, stickers and stamps. Well, it looks like somehow each and every one of these methods somehow failed and left the child marked and embarrassed.
Bivens unloaded on the school, saying,
“They herd these kids like cattle. When you start stamping a message on a child’s body instead of calling… it’s not okay. I don’t care if my son has a negative $100 balance… I don’t care. Send me a note home or an email… Where can I draw the line regarding my parental rights?”
Amen to that. They’re children, not products. Treat them with some dang dignity for goodness’ sake.
Bivens also stated that his son was mocked for this incident. He said, “It’s a form of bullying and shaming the kids.” He didn’t add money to his son’s account because there were only a few days left in the school year. He said his son was so embarrassed he didn’t return to class for those last few days. Bullying is everywhere and should never be encouraged. Not all children have resources to deal with it.
Gardendale Elementary isn’t the only school to utilize such methods. While the idea of having an account is a smart one, the children shouldn’t be punished for such offences, especially when it’s not their fault and they wouldn’t know any better. Noelle Roni was principal of Peak to Peak Charter School in Colorado. She spoke out against this practice, saying, “The kids are humiliated. They’re branded. It’s disrespectful. Where’s the human compassion? And these are little children.”
So how did the school react to Roni’s impassioned plea? Did they commend her for stating the obvious, and preaching tolerance and compassion? Was she rewarded for fighting for the rights and dignity of the children she’s tasked with looking after? Well… not exactly. They actually fired her after her nine years with them. The school insisted it had nothing to do with her speaking out about this. But the timing of this is suspicious at best.
Roni is highly skeptical that she was fired for any other reason. How could she not be? She had been making a lot of noise trying to get the school to end the practice of stamping children. The fact she was suddenly canned after going public with her distaste of this frankly distasteful practice is pretty compelling evidence.
“I believe that I was retaliated against for standing up for children’s rights and against activities that stigmatized children.”
Like Bivens, Roni felt there were better, less traumatizing ways to inform the students’ parents. She said, “As soon as I saw it happening, I was like, ‘No, this is not OK.’ The students felt so humiliated, like they had done something wrong. They didn’t want to go into the lunchroom any more. It’s unethical and disrespectful.” The school said they have methods of alerting the parents, but they were clearly not properly implemented at all.
Again, students should be seen as individuals, not inventory. They go to school to learn. It should be a place they feel safe and can grow into the adults that will one day take over this planet. It shouldn’t be a place they’re afraid of being mocked by the system itself. These shaming practices need to stop immediately. Why can’t we make school lunches free? As much as politicians and teachers spout that children are our greatest natural resource, let’s start acting like it.