Third Grader Humiliated After School Stamps ‘I Need Lunch Money’ on Arm

Elementary school can be a tough time for many kids. As brains develop, so too do ideas about how one fits into the world. It is a period in every child’s life when they begin to learn independence and how to go about interacting with others.

It’s no secret that bullying can be one of the toughest part of a child’s life. The destructive power of peer bullying is finally getting the serious attention it deserves and campaigns like It Gets Better have arisen to give these children support.

But what if the bullying comes not from one’s peers but from the school staff? This is what Gardendale, Ala., father Jon Bivens says happened to his son, who recently completed third grade.

Bivens says his son came home one day with an unusual ink stamp on his arm: A smiley face paired with the message “I need lunch money.”

Stunned by this discovery, Bivens says his son was “branded,” arguing that “it’s a form of bullying and shaming.”

Typically, Bivens says, the school will call or email a parent to notify them when a student’s lunch balance is low. This time there were no notices, that is, until Bivens’ son came home stamped.

As his son’s balance still had $1.38 with only a few days remaining in the school year, Bivens had no plans to add more — making him especially perplexed by the school’s action. Most of the time his son brings lunch from home, however he occasionally purchases drinks or snacks from the school cafeteria.

Speaking to, Bivens says, “I don’t care if my son has a -$100 balance…I don’t care. Send me a note home or an email…Where can I draw the line regarding my parental rights?”

In protest, Bivens kept his son home for the last several days of school.

Gardendale Elementary School Principal Laura Ware says they will make sure Bivens’ son isn’t stamped in the future, whie seeming to indicate that the practice will continue with other students.

What happened in Gardendale is not so much a controversy about accounting but about how a school’s staff treats children. Evidently, little consideration was given to the unnecessary humiliation Bivens’ son endured at the hands of authority figures.

What happened to Bivens’ son isn’t entirely unique. It bears resemblance to other incidents, such as the Virginia middle school student who was handcuffed after taking free milk from the school cafeteria.

These types of situations are, arguably, the product of an antiquated, ineffective mentality toward children and discipline. Though schools can no longer paddle their students, punishments are still handed out for even the most minor infractions.

In fact, punishing students with suspension costs the country $35 billion yearly — with little to show for it.

Though some might not consider the “branding” of Bivens’ 8-year-old son a punishment, it very much was — he was literally marked as being different, a label implying his family are deadbeats who can’t keep up their bills.

Photo Credit: djedzura / Thinkstock


Wendi M.
Wendi M2 years ago

I am crying reading this

Mike L.
Mike L.2 years ago

Soooooo odd that that would even happen.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Combination- idiotic thing for the school to do- but is it really their responsibility to remind parents about lunch money? Think of all the time and effort and money to do that when it could be used to educate.

Michelle Daddy
Michelle Daddy2 years ago

How to make a mountain out of a mole hill. There are worse things that can happen to children, rather worry about those instead. Unless people a bored, then by all means moan and perform about utter nonsense.

Nena MILLER2 years ago

I'm sure keeping the child home added to the issue. My kids would have probably washed it off. I would have told my kids that was a strange way to notify parents and not made an issue. It sounds like that's what they do. E mail seems like an easy way to handle notification.

timothy m.
timothy m2 years ago

Oh, well, this kid is white, so what's the problem?

(By the way, that's sarcasm.)

Judie B.
Judie B2 years ago

So, according to the article, "Typically" the school will call or email when a lunch account is low. THIS time, they decided to humiliate the child to get the parents' attention. Let's face it, kids at this age can be extremely cruel, and many haven't learned boundaries and developed empathy, yet. This is akin to punishing the child for the parent's crime. Why not arrest the child, put him in handcuffs and drive him home in a police cruiser, reminding him all the way home, "Your dad is a deadbeat, so we're punishing you?" For a child, this is nearly the same thing. And children who saw the stamp may not let it go and continue to taunt him for months.

Why is it that the people in charge at schools (principals, administrators -- the ones who usually end up at the top) seem to be the ones who graduated in the bottom half of their class and should NEVER be allowed around children. They shouldn't teach so we should put them in charge? Clearly they are lacking in critical thinking.

Saeeda M.
Saeeda Makhlooq2 years ago

That is unprofessional. Letter or email would do. Thanks for sharing.

lisa O.
lisa O2 years ago

Barbara, often the costs for school lunch vary daily so the amount needed per month cannot always be anticipated directly, also some people live week to week on pay checks and cannot put extra out there. That said, it is best if the parents can keep ahead of it. The school should have a system in place to convey a low balance to the parents without involving the kids.