Last week, when Tara Chavez picked up her son, studying in second grade at the Desert Cove Elementary in Phoenix, she saw the embarrassment on his face, and a stamp on his arm.
Chavez’s son got a harsh reminder from the school cafeteria for being short on money for his lunch. Stamped on the inside of his wrist, were thick black capital letters: “LUNCH MONEY.”
“I asked if he was given a choice by the lunch lady, and he said, ‘No, she just grabbed my wrist and put the stamp on,’ ” the distraught mother said, adding that she was “surprised” because she usually gets “a slip in his folder when he needs more money.”
The situation impelled Chavez’s friend to post about the episode on Twitter, prompting outrage online. Accompanied by a picture of the boy’s wrist, the post said:
“Like, y’all couldn’t send a note? Y’all couldn’t think for two seconds about the numerous references of branding someone as a stigma?”
Chavez claimed that her son told her he was given lunch despite the stamp, but when she checked his account online, there were 75 cents remaining in it.
However, she complained that her son felt very embarrassed and that’s what bothers her most about the incident.
“He was screaming and crying the entire time,” Chavez said. “He was humiliated, didn’t even want me to take a picture of it.”
Desert Cove Principal Stacy Orest emailed her about the incident, says Chavez. Stacey apparently told Chavez that cafeteria staff don’t want to embarrass students they are “supposed to ask them if they want a stamp or a reminder slip.”
On Monday however, Paradise Valley Unified School District spokesperson Becky Kelbaugh told a local newspaper that Desert Cove will discontinue “reminder stamps” about low lunch-money accounts.
“It was never the intention of Desert Cove Elementary School administration and staff to embarrass any student by using the stamp,” Kelbaugh told the paper. “Students were given the choice between a letter or reminder stamp. Going forward, Desert Cove Elementary School will send a letter home notifying parents of low lunch balances.”
Kelbaugh added that when there isn’t enough money in students’ accounts, they are given multiple free lunches.
The “stamp” practice is nothing new and is an easy way for parents to be reminded to refill their child’s account with the school. The practice replaced notes as too many parents failed to go through their child’s school materials each day.