Dozens of children at a Utah elementary school had their lunch trays snatched away from them before they could take a bite last month. Salt Lake City School District officials say the trays were taken away at Uintah Elementary School because some students had negative balances in the accounts used to pay for lunches, according to CNN.
The students watched as their food was thrown away, many crying with shame, humiliation, embarrassment, and just pure hunger. The school officials justified this action by saying they would never let a child go “hungry,” so each child whose parents were behind in paying for lunches were given a carton of milk and a piece of fruit.
As a poor kid growing up in public schools, I have experienced being singled out and humiliated among other classmates in this way. In hearing this story, the pain I experienced fifty-four years ago is still there. The painful experience that these children had to endure will be a negative life changing event for many of them. The school can apologize, the parents can try to make it up to the child by telling them how unjust it is, but the damage has been done. The feelings of being different, made fun of, or feeling “less than” their classmates can change a life. (To see many other people’s similar stories, go to Class Action’s page of blog posts on K-12 education.)
While not all of the children who had their food taken away from them were poor – some parents just forgot to pay and were not notified – this is a common type of experience for many poor children. I remember my horror and shock when I found out my niece had to sit with one other student in study hall all day, while all the other classmates went on an all-day field trip I remember the pain of being the only one sitting in the school auditorium while the rest of my class went to the state capital for the day. I could not believe it was possible that my niece actually suffered the same humiliating event some 40 years later! Now, after having worked with many low income school students and activists, I realize that things are even worse for some than when I started school in 1960.
Our public schools continue to deteriorate, and as corporate control takes over many public schools, things are rapidly getting worse. Corporate control and privatization of public schools is quickly becoming the norm and a very dangerous occurrence that few people know about or understand. It is as horrific as the privatization of prisons and worse as some of the same corporations are behind both. This allows the school to prison pipeline to be even more strengthened and enforced. We see terrible actions taking place that will affect not only our next generation but many to come with things like standardized testing, children packed fifty to a classroom, cuts in arts and music programs, K-12 having to go through metal detectors and pat downs, lack of text books, and teachers being turned into low-paid, under-resourced people unable to really teach critical thinking but instead pressured to teach students to just pass the “standardized tests”.