Our state’s public schools are sometimes the only place where children are able to have a hot meal. However, children whose parents owe on their school lunch bills are experiencing a recent phenomenon called “food-shaming.” Students are denied a hot lunch, given a sunflower-seed-butter and jelly sandwich or given no food at all. They are humiliated in front of their peers for something that is out of their control.

Luckily, District 6 state Sen. Joyce Maker is sponsoring a bill, L.D. 1684, that would ban stigmatizing students for their parents’ inability to pay for school meals. A Maine Education Association survey showed that many schools in Maine are denying their students food or giving them an alternative meal when their parents owe too much lunch money. Some schools will mark children who owe a lunch debt with a wristband or stamp, another practice the bill seeks to ban.

A teenager from District 14 (represented in the Maine Senate by Shenna Bellows, a co-sponsor of L.D. 1684) described being called out at a school assembly and warned that she wouldn’t be able to graduate unless her debt to the school was paid. The amount in question? $2.10.

Not only is being called out in front of one’s peers embarrassing, the practice of giving children a less-than-filling lunch (or, worse, no lunch at all) can be a traumatic experience. Even just the practice of providing an alternative hot lunch can be degrading to a child, as their peers will see their lunch and know that it’s the mark of an inability to pay.

Obviously it is the parents’ responsibility to provide adequate nutrition for their child, but when they fail to do so out of neglect or oversight, it’s never the child’s fault, and it should not be treated as such.

Isabelle Oechslie