The method an elementary school in Phoenix used to notify a parent about her son’s low lunch account balance has many people concerned.
Tara Chavez noticed a stamp on her son’s wrist Thursday that read “lunch money” in capital letters when he returned from his day at Desert Cove Elementary School, according to BuzzFeed. The mom told BuzzFeed her son (whom she chose not to name) was still given lunch, but she was confused since she usually gets a slip to notify her of the balance. She also said her son was “humiliated.”
“He was screaming and crying the entire time,” Chavez said. “He was humiliated, didn’t even want me to take a picture of it.”
Chavez’s friend, Juan Fortenberry, learned of the incident and posted about it on Twitter on April 1. His first tweet about what happened has been retweeted more than 1,000 times. Many people responded saying they had experienced similar things growing up and questioning the school’s reasoning.
He told The Huffington Post the photo of the stamp on the boy “broke [his] heart immediately.”
“[My friend and I] both agreed as former free/reduced lunch kids who just quietly know the shame of feeling othered from more well-off friends at school that it felt like he was being shamed,” he said.
In a statement to The Huffington Post, Becky Kelbaugh, communications specialist at Paradise Valley Unified School District, which includes Desert Cove Elementary, said the “’lunch money’ stamp” was discontinued as a district policy years ago and that the elementary school will notify parents now with a letter home.
“It was never the intention of Desert Cove Elementary School administration and staff to embarrass any student by using the stamp. Students were given the choice between a letter or reminder stamp. Going forward, Desert Schools Elementary School [sic] will send a letter home notifying parents of low lunch balances ... School administration has worked directly with the parent to address her concerns.”
In 2016, Jon Bivens, a father in Alabama, spoke out after a similar incident in which an elementary school stamped his son’s arm to notify him and his wife of a low lunch balance. He told AL.com he felt that his son had been “branded.”
Fortenberry told HuffPost he hopes more schools consider how they alert parents of low lunch account balances, citing his experience as a student with free/reduced lunch.
“One thing I can never forget is always feeling lesser because I couldn’t afford the ‘cool’ lunch items that kids would pay extra for, something like eating pizza every day,” he said. “The shame of not being as well-off as your peers was like a quiet hum to me. It wasn’t piercing but I was hyperaware of it.”
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