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After backlash, school stops stamping 'lunch money' on kids with low funds

A second-grader at Desert Cove Elementary School in Phoenix came home in tears last week because of the 'lunch money' stamp.
/ Source: TODAY

After a child was sent home with "lunch money" stamped on his arm last week — and a photo of it went viral — an Arizona school has ended the practice of stamping reminders on kids when lunch-money accounts run low.

A second grader at Desert Cove Elementary School in Phoenix came home embarrassed and crying after the incident last Thursday, as BuzzFeed initially reported. His mother Tara Chavez said she was surprised about the stamp, as she usually gets a paper slip in his folder when his account runs low. He did receive lunch, and he even still had 75 cents left on his account, she told the website.

A spokesperson for the Paradise Valley Unified School District told TODAY in an email the "lunch money" stamp had previously been used at the school, but was discontinued long ago. "Unfortunately, the new administrator was unaware that the practice had been discontinued, and decided to give students a choice between a letter and a reminder stamp," the spokesperson said.

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Going forward, Desert Cove Elementary School will send a letter home notifying parents of low lunch balances and discontinue use of the stamp as an option, they said.

"It’s important to know that using a 'lunch money' stamp is not a district policy at PVSchools," the spokesperson added. "It was never the intention of Desert Cove Elementary School administration and staff to embarrass any student by using the stamp."

After the initial incident last week, a family friend of Chavez's, Juan Fortenberry, posted a photo of the arm stamp on social media. It quickly went viral.

The family has been inundated with media attention, though Fortenberry, who has been acting as a spokesperson for Chavez, told TODAY, "I can tell you for sure that she and her son are doing well."

Chavez has spoken to school administrators. "The principal was devastated that her son had such an experience," Fortenberry said. "[Chavez] decided after the meeting to move forward without further comment so she can preserve a good relationship with the school."

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It's not the first time lunch-shaming has been in the news. Last year, an Indiana high school student posted a photo of a cheese sandwich served to her as an "alternative lunch," because she owed more than $25 in lunch debt.

Earlier this year New York writer Ashley C. Ford took to Twitter to encourage people to commit a random act of kindness: "Find out which of your local schools have kids with overdue lunch accounts and pay them off."

At the school in Phoenix, the district spokesperson said that if no money is left in a student's account, he or she is provided with multiple free lunches, adding that school officials regularly communicate with parents when a student's lunch money balance is low. Parents can also review their child’s account balance online at