May 18, 2017
As a member of End School Lunch Shaming Rhode Island, the recent news that the Pawtucket School Committee will vote on Tuesday, May 23rd to end a policy that resulted in punitive “lunch shaming” practices is simultaneously welcome and puzzling. We are thrilled that children will not be shamed or hungry, and that is the most important thing. Regardless, the barriers to transparency and accountability in our local schools need to be addressed.
For weeks, members of our loosely formed coalition have met to discuss lunch shaming and the best way to bring it to the attention of local officials and school administrators. When we did so, we were met with protest and insistence that no lunch shaming was happening in schools. This ran contrary to people in the community who had shared their experiences. We got conflicting information about the causes, and exact amount, of the district’s lunch debt. Attempts to contact the School Committee and the Mayor left us frustrated by a lack of response. In the nearby communities of South Kingston and Westerly concerned students and parents got traction immediately when they raised concerns; in our first interactions with local elected officials in Pawtucket, our members were mocked and ridiculed. The insistence that these conversations happen behind closed doors instead of during public meetings left us wondering: why the disconnect? How could we ensure that the concerns of local residents would be heard and respected even if they were rightfully upset about how the schools were treating their children?
Since no one seemed interested in fixing the problem we decided to hold a community meeting. Although recent developments leave us hopeful that lunch shaming will end, we still believe it’s important to have the meeting – scheduled for Monday, May 22nd at 6:30pm – and to discuss both lunch shaming and the convoluted process for parents and community members to have a role in school policy. We hope that the School Committee, Mayor, City Councilors and the community will join us at this meeting and publicly commit to ending lunch shaming in Pawtucket and to partnering on improving lunch policies so that they operate sustainably for families and for the school district moving forward. We hope you will join us to send a clear message that transparency is necessary and that no resident of Pawtucket is left out of school decision-making.
It should not have taken two years of a punitive lunch policy for the School Committee to understand that lunch shaming is wrong and ineffective. If you spoke out about lunch shaming in Pawtucket YOU own a part of our hopeful victory on Tuesday evening. We hope that the school district and local officials will recognize the importance of community feedback for improving policy and be more receptive to this feedback in the future. Only time will tell whether any lessons were learned, but in the meantime we will continue to work to ensure that no student goes hungry or is made to feel ashamed over school lunch.
46 Windsor Ct., Pawtucket
Member, End School Lunch Shaming Rhode Island
May 30, 2017