It’s difficult to believe that Bob Plain isn’t trying his hand at parody with an interesting article on RI Future today about “lunch shaming”:
It’s known as lunch shaming. Students are subjected to special, sometimes embarrassing, treatment because their parents didn’t pay the school lunch bill. “Some provide kids an alternative lunch, like a cold cheese sandwich,” according to a recent NPR story. “Other schools sometimes will provide hot lunch, but require students do chores, have their hand stamped or wear a wristband showing they’re behind in payment. And, some schools will deny students lunch all together.”
The so-called cheese sandwich policy seems popular in suburban Rhode Island: Bristol/Warren, South Kingstown, and East Greenwich all use it.
From Bob’s article it appears that we’re talking debts in the amounts of $5 or $10, which seems like a paltry amount that districts could find some way to accommodate. I’m trying to imagine a working-to-middle-class private school taking such steps. In a transaction in which one side actually has the option to leave, other approaches have to be considered, whether a mandatory up-front fee, a deposit of some kind, a credit card on file, mandatory use of a payment processor that handles the collection, or a slight increase to all lunches in order to generate a reserve fund that provides a buffer for this sort of “debt.”
Putting aside the “what would the private sector do” comparison, though, think of what this little story says about the relationship of government to the people. Adults in position of authority over school districts with budgets in the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars are agonizing over ways to embarrass children so as to extract a few owed dollars from their parents. That doesn’t indicate a mindset of provider-client or public-servant–beneficiary. Rather, it indicates the dynamic of ruler-subject similar to a Dickensian orphanage.
Suffice to say it takes a series of monumentally bad social and public policy decisions to get us to the point at which the proverbial lunch lady is scornfully handing a child some bread and cheese over $5 owed. We should start unraveling those decisions.