As she drove him home from school, she gripped the wheel until her knuckles turned white. She tried not to let her son see how upset she was.
When they got home, she gently asked him to show her his arm. His eyes met the floor as he lifted up his sleeve. And there it was. Plain as day. Whoever did this was going to pay.
Tara Chavez had researched all the schools in the area of Phoenix before she had decided on Desert Cove Elementary.
Her son Cayden was a sensitive soul and she wanted to make sure that he would be treated accordingly. With good-sized classes and a focus on children’s well being, Desert Cove Elementary seemed like the perfect fit.
Tara felt satisfied that Desert Cove Elementary would be a good fit for her son, so she filled out the paperwork and promptly enrolled him.
Little did she know, the school was about to do something that would make her sorely regret her decision and cause controversy online. It wouldn’t be long before other parents were speaking out, too.
After a full term at the school, everything seemed to be going swimmingly, until it suddenly didn’t.
Little Cayden excelled in his studies, made a lot of new friends and loved all his teachers. But, as Tara and her husband were about to find out, the teachers weren’t the ones who they needed to keep an eye on.
As usual, Tara picked Cayden up from school. But when she saw his face, she knew that something was deeply wrong. Her thoughts immediately flew to bullying, and her blood began to boil.
Regaining her composure, she cheerily asked Cayden how his day had been. She had to get to the bottom of this, now.
Cayden replied with a tense “fine,” and resumed gazing out the window. Tara gently asked if something had happened at school, but he didn’t answer.
Understanding that he didn’t want to talk about it, she decided to give him space and continue with the conversation later with her husband. Then, she saw a jarring mark on his arm.
Tara craned her neck over to try to see what was on her son’s arm. At first, she thought it looked like dirt, but the closer she looked, the more she began to think otherwise.
Whatever had made her son unhappy today was due to that mark – she just knew it. And she was about to be proven right.
Tara’s mind became full of suspicions. But instead of demanding that Cayden show her his arm, she decided to focus on the road and deal with the issue when they got home.
She gripped the wheel until her knuckles turned white, trying not to let Cayden see just how upset she was. Whoever did this was going to pay.
When they arrived home, Cayden headed straight towards his room, but Tara stopped him. She called her husband, pulled out a chair and invited Cayden to take a seat. Her husband playfully caught Cayden and perched him on the seat.
Tara asked him to show them his arm. He looked down as he lifted up his sleeve. And there it was. What the school did to him. Plain as day.
“I asked if he was given a choice”, and he said, ‘No, she just grabbed my wrist and put the stamp on,’” the angry mom explained in an interview.
The mark was ink. But he hadn’t written on his own arm. His father looked closer until he could make out the words that were stamped, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
Immediately, her husband took a picture of Cayden’s arm. “He was screaming and crying the entire time,” Tara said. “He was humiliated, didn’t even want me to take a picture of it.”
There, in thick blue capital letters, were the words “LUNCH MONEY,” stamped on her son’s arm. But what was the meaning of this? And who had done it?
Cayden explained that it was the lunch lady. Apparently, she had felt the need to publicly shame him in front of the entire school. The more his parents heard, the angrier they became.
The fact that her son felt so embarrassed by the stamp was the most concerning part. Why wouldn’t the school send her a reminder via email if her son’s account was running low? Angered, they posted this incident online, was this right?
It wasn’t long before Tara’s post about the stamp exploded online. It quickly racked up hundreds of comments and shares. And most parents were supportive, saying that Tara’s anger was completely justified.
“Like, y’all couldn’t send a note?” her friend asked. “Y’all couldn’t think for two seconds about the numerous references of branding someone as a stigma?” Shortly after the post went viral, Tara heard from them. What did they have to say for themselves?
Of course, the school’s representatives denied everything. They acted as though they had no idea what was really going on in their own school.
Cornered by local media outlets clamoring for an interview, they were under pressure to make a statement about the incident. The outraged parents wanted answers. And all eyes were on the school’s principal.
Desert Cove Principal, Stacey Orest, stated that cafeteria staff had never intended to embarrass students with “reminder stamps,” and that they are always “supposed to ask them if they want a stamp or a reminder slip.”
But that answer wasn’t good enough for Tara or the other parents who were on her side. And it certainly wasn’t a good image for Desert Cove Elementary School.
A lot of parents decided to stand behind the family, saying that Tara’s reaction was totally justified. One thing was for sure: they wanted the “reminder” stamps gone.
The following Monday, the school was forced to make an official statement on the matter. Paradise Valley Unified School District spokesperson Becky Kelbaugh tried to explain.
“It was never the intention of Desert Cove Elementary School administration and staff to embarrass any student by using the stamp,” she said. So, what were they going to do about it?
She continued, “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.”
She also told the Phoenix New Times that Desert Cove will discontinue “reminder stamps” about low lunch-money accounts. But this isn’t the first time this has happened…
Jon Bivens’ son, a third-grader who attends Gardendale Elementary School, came home with a similar stamp on his arm. At first, Jon didn’t think much of it, “I thought it was a good job stamp,” he said.
But when Jon took a closer look at his son’s arm, his initial nonchalance quickly turned to fury.
Jon and his wife send their son to school with packed lunches but allow him to occasionally buy treats from the school’s cafeteria.
But what angered Jon the most was that his son had had a positive balance on his cafeteria account at the end of the term. At the time of the offending stamp, Jon’s son still had a balance of $1.38.
“They herd these kids like cattle,” the angry dad said. He also said that his son was “branded.” “When you start stamping a message on a child’s body instead of calling…it’s not okay,” he said in an interview.
Then, he saw that it was a stamp that said, “I need lunch money.” Jon was surprised, as the school usually sent them a notification when his son’s account was running low.
And with this “branding” of children and causing them public humiliation in schools becoming more and more common, parents are becoming more outspoken on the matter.
Joe continued: “It’s a form of bullying and shaming the kids.” What do you think? Are parents right to be outraged by this “branding” system in schools?
Desert Cove Elementary School is in an affluent neighborhood, and only 32% of the students attending school there qualify for reduced-price or free lunches.
It’s easy to see why students whose accounts are running low could feel a great deal of shame and embarrassment when they are singled out like this in front of their peers. Do you think this is fair?