On Thursday, Tara Chavez noticed something strange when she picked up her son from Desert Cove Elementary School: the words "LUNCH MONEY" were stamped in big, black letters across his arm.
“Normally, I get a slip in his folder when he needs more money," she told BuzzFeed News this weekend. "He was humiliated, didn’t even want me to take a picture of it.”
When she went home and checked online, she found that her son, who'd been crying because he was so embarrassed, had a balance of 75 cents remaining in his account.
Desert Cove is a relatively affluent school — only 32.1 percent of the students there qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. So it's easy to imagine that singling out students whose account balances are low could be a traumatizing experience for them.
"Lunch shaming" can lead students to skip meals altogether, one Houston-based nonprofit found.
That in turn hurts their academic performance and makes them more likely to repeat a grade or require mental health counseling, according to the American Psychological Association.
Chavez says that she e-mailed Stacey Orest, the principal at Desert Cove, and was told that cafeteria staff are supposed to give kids the option of a stamp or a reminder slip, so that they won't be embarrassed.
So why stamp kids at all, since we know it's going to embarrass them? Especially in 2017, when we have phones and the internet and the U.S. Postal Service?
So far, the Paradise Valley Unified School District hasn't responded to questions about the policy. We'll update this story when they do.
This happened to me all the time in middle school, and directly lead to my eating disorder https://t.co/sPPaqF7N1s— tweetheart (@ebbsy_) April 1, 2017
Meanwhile, a picture of the stamp has been going viral ever since Chavez's friend, Juan Fortenberry, posted it on Twitter.
"Like, y'all couldn't send a note? Y'all couldn't think for two seconds about the numerous references of branding someone as a stigma?" he wrote.
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"If a kid's parents don't have any money to deposit to the child's account ... do they just keep stamping the child everyday? Seriously."
Update 4/3, 4:27 p.m.: Paradise Valley Unified School District spokesperson Becky Kelbaugh says that Desert Cove will no longer use “reminder stamps” to notify parents when their children’s school lunch accounts are running low.
“It was never the intention of Desert Cove Elementary School administration and staff to embarrass any student by using the stamp,” she writes. “Students were given the choice between a letter or reminder stamp. Going forward, Desert Cove Elementary School will send a letter home notifying parents of low lunch balances.”
“It’s important to know that using a ‘lunch money’ stamp is not a district policy at PVSchools. It was a practice had been used, but was discontinued years ago. Administration at our schools regularly communicate with parents when a student's lunch money balance is low. If there is no money left in the account, students are provided with multiple free lunches.”