Many people are probably familiar with the stereotype of the school lunch room bully who shakes down little elementary school children for their lunch money. However, in the stereotype, the bully is usually an older child, not an adult who works for the school district as the child-nutrition manager. Yet, in the real world, an adult child-nutrition manger for the Salt Lake City school district, played the role of lunch room bully and confiscated school lunches from dozens of grade school children at Uintah Elementary School this week.
Children who had already been served their lunches, had the lunches taken away by cafeteria workers, who then discarded the lunches in front of other students. The action was apparently designed to shame the children into pressuring their parents to pay for money they owed the district for the lunch program. Grade school children had to watch as cafeteria workers seized their trays and dumped their lunches in front of other school children.
The action outraged many parents and upset some school employees as well. The district has issued an apology and the school’s principal has set up a special account to temporarily cover lunches for student’s whose payments are not up to date. Utah lawmakers from both parties have voiced disgust with the district’s actions. Democrat Jim Dabakis (Salt Lake City) was pretty direct, stating:
We just plain need more money to feed our school children. There should not be a hungry child in this state.
Republican Todd Weiler (Woods Cross) also minced no words by arguing that:
To me, this rises to the level of bullying. These children were humiliated in their own school, in front of their classmates.
While, it is great that these particular lawmakers voiced disapproval of the action, American public policy seems to be trending in the direction of letting children go hungry for the sake of maintaining corporate subsidies and tax cuts for the wealthy. A bipartisan Farm Bill passed earlier this week approved cuts in the SNAP program that provides food for low income families.
Last month, Georgia Republican Congressman Jack Kingston (who is running this year to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Saxby Chambliss) declared that poor children should have to sweep floors if they want to eat lunch. Welcome to the mean spirited modern version of the Republican Party, working in cahoots with allies in the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. These politicians believe children should suffer hunger and humiliation so billionaires do not have to undergo the indignity of paying higher taxes or giving up their agribusiness subsidies.
These mean spirited hunger games need to be stopped and replaced with sound public policy that affirms the right of every school child to eat lunch every day regardless of their financial situation at home. Every school district in the country should follow the example of Boston and several other major cities that provide free lunch to all public school children with no paper work, no hassle, and no opportunity for children to be publicly humiliated and deprived of meals as they were in the Utah school. At the same time, members of Congress need to continue to approve funding of SNAP and other programs that prevent American children from going hungry. Bullying children by taking their lunch trays or by passing legislation that leaves them with empty stomachs is unconscionable and it needs to stop.