Recently, a school district in Pennsylvania sent out over 1,000 letters to parents who owed money on school lunches threatening that the lunch debt be paid or they be faced with their children being placed in foster care. The district solicitor who penned the letters, later identified as Charles Coslett, stated that the district is owed over $22,000 in lunch debt. He wrote that if the debt was left unpaid, it could result in the district sending the parents to Dependency Court for, “neglecting your child’s right to food.” Some parents that received this letter owed less than $15 to the district. When asked about the harshness of his letter, Coslett replied that he hoped it, “gets their attention.” He continues by stating that the backlash against the letter is because of “some parent’s crying foul over [the fact that] he or she doesn’t want to pay a debt. A debt attributable to feeding their kid. How shameful.”
This letter is just the most recent example of how schools constantly lunch-shame kids and parents who do not have the means to pay for their school lunch. One Pennsylvanian student described to the New York Times how her lunch was thrown away in front of other students on the first day of school because she had an unpaid bill. In Warwick, Rhode Island, students who have accrued lunch debt will only be served a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of a hot meal. In one case, students were even branded with stamps for not being able to pay upfront for their lunch. As if those with parents who struggle economically don’t have a hard time already, now they are scrutinized, beaten down, and publicly embarrassed by school officials for wanting to eat food.
One in five children don’t have consistent access to food, so many of them rely on having a school lunch every day to give them the energy to learn as well as a way to survive. It’s plain and obvious that for many students, the lunch that they can’t afford at school is the only food they’ll see all day. So why are all of these school districts making it harder on the parents and students who are already struggling? Why is some students’ very way of life being threatened because they owe their school district a whopping $15? The answer is simple: American society punishes poor people for being poor.
The world revolves around money. Everything is given for a simple trade of money. If you want to succeed, you want money. If you want to live comfortably, you want money. If you want to survive, you need money. Some people have enough money to buy a Louis Vuitton bag and go on vacation every week, and for that American society deems them as “luxurious” and their life as a “dream goal”. Some people don’t have enough money to put food on the table every night, and definitely don’t have the means to pay for daily school lunch. For this, American society deems them as “lazy” and their life as “unfit for raising a child”, and this school letter proves that. So instead of trying to help them in whatever way they can, schools use their weaknesses as a way of threatening to take away their children for not having enough money. These schools have used the purpose of protecting children enforced by Child Protective Services as a weapon to incite fear in struggling parents. And it needs to stop.
Why does society tell us that, no matter how hard you work or how many jobs you have, the only thing that matters is how much money came out of it? And why are we taught that if you don’t make enough money, you should be shamed for it? Society has forgotten that despite constant innovation and a growing educated population, there are some that don’t have the means to get a degree or get an advanced job. In their world, you work or you don’t eat. Society has forgotten that many go through a long period of struggling to survive, and sometimes that means taking on a debt that you just can’t pay yet for the sake of your child’s health and wellbeing. Society has forgotten its mercy for those who are struggling and replaced it with cruelty and greed for money over the safety of the children residing within it. But we must make society remember. We must make it remember the kindness and compassion for those who are in desperate need of it.
Schools, take a note. Don’t throw that kid’s lunch away. Don’t put that ink stamp on their hand. Don’t hand them that stale sandwich. Take that kid’s lunch and ask them what’s going on at home. Put the stamper away and realize that a child is struggling. Give them a hot meal and ask them how you can help them. And do not threaten a child’s entire way of life and put them through a life’s worth of emotional trauma because of the dollar signs in your eyes.
Featured Image Via Pixabay.