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New Mexico Outlaws ‘Lunch Shaming’ at Schools

The state of New Mexico has outlawed the practice of shaming children whose parents fail to keep up with school lunch payments.

Gov. Susana Martinez signed the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Thursday, which outlaws practices that single out children who have insufficient funds to pay for their meals and instead directs schools to work with parents to pay their debts or sign up for federal meal assistance, the New York Times reported.

The law applies to public, private, and religious schools that receive federal subsidies for students’ breakfasts and lunches.

Before the law was passed, some schools forced children to clean cafeteria tables in front of their classmates to pay their debt or had cafeteria workers take hot food away from children who could not afford to pay for lunch.

“People on both sides of the aisle were genuinely horrified that schools were allowed to throw out children’s food or make them work to pay off debt,” said Jennifer Ramo, executive director of New Mexico Appleseed, an anti-poverty group that spearheaded the law. “It sounds like some scene from ‘Little Orphan Annie,’ but it happens every day.”

State Senator Michael Padilla (D-Bernalillo) introduced the bill based on his experience with lunch shaming practices as a child who grew up in foster homes.

“I made Mrs. Ortiz and Mrs. Jackson, our school lunch ladies, my best friends,” he said. “Thank goodness they took care of me, but I had to do other things like mop the floor in the cafeteria. It was really noticeable that I was one of the poor kids in the school.”

New Mexico is not the first state to put in place legislation that outlaws shaming. Texas and California also have laws on the books banning the practice in schools.

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