After Backlash, Rhode Island School District Rolls Back ‘Lunch Shaming’ Policy

Students in New York fill their lunch trays with hot food. In Rhode Island, a controversy over a plan to limit children with outstanding lunch balances to cold sandwiches, was quickly reversed this week.

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Mary Esch/AP

Fundraising efforts to spare kids from from lunchtime humiliation in a Rhode Island school district have resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in donations over a couple of days, including nearly $50,000 by New York-based yogurt-maker, Chobani.

On Sunday, Warwick Public Schools, a small school district facing approximately $77,000 in overdue lunch fees this year, curtly announced plans to implement a new policy that would ban students with outstanding balances to choose from the cafeteria’s hot meals. Instead, it would limit children to “sun butter and jelly” sandwiches until the debt was repaid or a payment plan established.

The change was set to take effect on May 13 but immediate outrage on Facebook and national media attention prompted officials to reverse the decision just one day later.

In a Facebook post Karen Bachus, chairwoman of the Warwick School Committee, said that “after careful review and consideration” the committee recommended to “allow the students their choice of lunch regardless of their account status.”

She also stressed that a vast majority of the debt — 72% — is from students who are not enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. She added that, as of the announcement, about $14,000 had been collected from outstanding balances. Bachus also detailed the month-long process by which the district seeks to collect payment from parents — a process that involves sending multiple letters home over 90 days.

as a parent, news of #WarwickPublicSchools breaks my heart. every child should have access to natural, nutritious & delicious food, so @Chobani is doing our small part to help pay this debt

business must do its part.. our responsibility as members of community. who will join us? pic.twitter.com/6HOTjDE4CX

— Hamdi Ulukaya (@hamdiulukaya) May 9, 2019

“As a parent, news of Warwick Public Schools breaks my heart,” Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya said in a tweet. “No child should be facing anything like this.”

“We need to step up. We’ll take care of this school’s bill … but we need everyone around the country to eliminate this” problem forever, he said, adding a call for other companies to help ensure every child has access to “natural, nutritious and delicious food.”

The company donated $47,650, the Providence Journal reported.

Additionally, the newspaper said, “Multiple GoFundMe fundraising pages have also been launched, with balances around $40,000.”

The controversy has fueled a national conversation about mounting school lunch debts and the practice of “lunch shaming” in public schools. Policies across school districts have varied drastically. Some routinely throw away lunches when students can’t afford to pay for them; Some prohibit access to hot food; Some stamp the hands of children whose parents are in arrears; and still others make children work to pay off their guardian’s debts.

In an attempt to provide some clarity and prevent children from public shame, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the federal school meal program, mandated that all districts put their policies in writing and communicate them to staff, parents and the community at the start of the school year. The agency stopped short of barring some of the most embarrassing practices but it did encourage districts to find alternative solutions for working with adults in addressing delinquent accounts.

The USDA provides free and reduced-price lunches to approximately 30.4 million children, but Michael Crudale, executive director of Human Resources at the neighboring Cranston Public Schools said he suspects thousands if not millions more children would qualify if they applied.

Cranston Public Schools, came under fire late last year after announcing a plan to send unpaid lunch bills to a collection agency.

“There was a lot of backlash … but over the last few years, student lunch debt has nearly doubled,” Crudale told NPR. In the three years he has worked for the district, the annual size of the debt “has gone from about $50,000 to $90,000, which is where we are now” and it’s likely to reach $100,000 by the end of the year, he said.

Crudale emphasized that the district’s new strategy is a “soft approach” and the collections account have no impact on credit scores or other unintentional adverse effects. He also said the letters have boosted enrollment numbers in the federal free and reduced lunch program because an application is attached to each notice.

“We do a big push for the program at the beginning of the year but a lot of people don’t get their forms in. By sending this form with the letter we have seen an increase and that’s good,” he said.

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U.S. – China Trade Talks End For Now, As Higher Tariffs Take Effect

Trade negotiators from the U.S. and China wrapped up two days of what President Trump called “candid and constructive” talks on Friday but failed to reach agreement. The Trump administration raised the stakes for future negotiations by boosting tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports.

Those tariffs “may or may not be removed depending on what happens with respect to future negotiations,” Trump tweeted. “The relationship between President Xi and myself remains a very strong one, and conversations into the future will continue.”

While the prospect of higher tariffs rattled financial markets, investors seemed reassured that talks had not broken down completely. Major stock indices closed up on Friday, after a sharp drop earlier in the day.

Still, U.S. business groups greeted the administration’s latest move with caution.

“CEOs are deeply concerned that a return to tariff escalation with China will hurt the U.S. economy and American workers, businesses, and farmers,” the Business Roundtable said in a statement.

The roundtable, which represents leaders of big public companies, supports the president’s push to change what it calls unfair trade practices in China. But CEOs stressed that any “final agreement should take tariffs down.”

Trump is a firm believer in tariffs, even though most economists say the import duties are primarily paid not by China but by U.S. businesses and consumers.

“Tariffs will make our Country MUCH STRONGER, not weaker,” the president tweeted. The administration increased tariffs from 10% to 25% on a wide range of Chinese products. Trump has also threatened to extend tariffs to another $325 billion in Chinese goods — taxing virtually everything the U.S. imports from China.

While the higher tariffs took effect in the middle of trade talks, they do not apply to goods in transit across the Pacific. That gives negotiators a narrow window to reach agreement before the effects of the higher duties are felt.

There was no immediate word on when or where trade negotiations would resume.

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Matt Nathanson On Mountain Stage

Songwriter Matt Nathanson remembers thinking “The world needs anthems” when he set out to make his latest album. “We need positive songs for un-empowered people,” he says. “I’m going to be the U2 of man-folk.”

But then, the songs that materialized seem to reflect heartache, loss and sadness, eventually becoming his 2018 release, Sings His Sad Heart. Nathanson quipped, “So the next records gonna be anthems.”

Nathanson is a champion charmer, as you can hear in this acoustic set accompanied by Aaron Tap on guitar, keys and backing vocals. His catalog is already filled with a variety of anthems and the hooks, which he seemingly has an endless supply of, are his secret weapon. We’re treated to three songs that appear on Sings His Sad Heart: “Way Way Back,” “Long Distance Runner,” and “Used to Be.” Each is fortified with tasty, hummable riffs that stick with you.

Nathanson gets major laughs in between songs with tales about the simultaneous roles of being a performer and a father, his only vice (cursing), and celebrity culture. The latter having influenced him to write the closing number, “Bill Murray,” from 2015’s Show Me Your Fangs.

Ever since the 2007 platinum-selling single “Come On Get Higher” founds its way into the public conscious, Nathanson’s songs have been featured in numerous television shows, NCIS and Scrubs among them. His effusive personality and outward love of music have landed him appearances on That Metal Show, Ellen, and he has performed on the The Bachelor … twice.

SET LIST

  • “Giants”
  • “Way Way Back”
  • “Long Distance Runner”
  • “Used to Be”
  • “Bill Murray”

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House Democrats Subpoena Trump Tax Returns

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., is pointing to a provision in the U.S. tax code as his authority for requesting the president’s personal and business tax records.

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J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House Democrats issued subpoenas on Friday to force Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to release six years of President Trump’s tax returns.

Democrats say the returns include information about Trump and his business dealings that is critical to their constitutional oversight duties. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., issued the subpoena after Mnuchin failed to comply with a request from House Democrats that he voluntarily turn over the returns.

” While I do not take this step lightly, I believe this action gives us the best opportunity to succeed and obtain the requested material. I sincerely hope that the Treasury Department will furnish the requested material in the next week so the committee can quickly begin its work,” Neal said in a written statement.

Administration officials, including Mnuchin, insist the request is unreasonable and illegal. Democrats argue that Neal, as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, is legally allowed to request the tax returns of any private citizen — citing a section of the tax code that states the Treasury Secretary “shall furnish” that information.

But Mnuchin rejected the request this week, telling Neal that he was relying on Department of Justice advice that the request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”

Trump has refused to comply with requests for his taxes since before he was elected, arguing that he is under audit and he does not believe he is legally required to disclose the information.

“There is no law,” Trump said in April. “While I’m under audit I won’t do it.”

Democrats say they are prepared for a lengthy court battle over the returns.

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How A Shirt From Target Helped A Survivor Of Deadly Amtrak Crash Heal

Janie Dumbleton was among the passengers of Amtrak 188 on May 12, 2015, when it derailed outside Philadelphia, killing eight. She’s shown here at High Street on Hudson, a restaurant in New York owned by another survivor of the crash, Eli Kulp.

Courtesy of Janie Dumbleton


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Courtesy of Janie Dumbleton

When Janie Dumbleton looks through her closet, she passes a clump of work clothes she hasn’t updated in four years: a blazer, black pants, winter dresses.

One of the 30-year-old’s favorite items is a sleeveless, floral peplum top from Target. It’s black and beige, with light pink and coral flowers and a sprinkle of baby blue.

It’s sturdy feeling, silky but structured. No rips. No stains.

“It’s kind of a miracle,” she says.

That’s because Janie was wearing the shirt on May 12, 2015, the day Amtrak Train 188 rounded a corner at 106 miles per hour — more than double the posted speed limit — and derailed outside Philadelphia. Eight people died, and more than 200 were injured. It was one of the worst Amtrak accidents in history.

Janie was wearing this shirt the day the train crashed. Her mother kept it for her, and she says it helped her overcome her PTSD triggers.

Courtesy of Janie Dumbleton


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Courtesy of Janie Dumbleton

Janie was on that train, sitting next to her boss, as she headed home to New York City from Washington, D.C. The sun had set — it was getting late, nearly 9:30 p.m.

She was tired but didn’t want to fall asleep — it was her first work trip — so she texted with her friend Jordan. They started chatting about the TV show Grey’s Anatomy, and Jordan described how one of the main characters, Derek Shepherd, died in a dramatic car accident.

“I remember texting back, ‘Nothing this dramatic ever happens in real life,’ ” Janie recalls. “And then I looked up and I saw the accordion of the train, kind of fold and bend and four seconds later, I’m blinking my eyes, thinking, ‘OK, I’m tired. I might be in a dream.’ ”

But it wasn’t a dream.

The train car she was riding in had derailed, and Janie found herself stuck in a crevasse. Three helicopters hovered right above the ground.

“I remember thinking, the world must have ended. I completely accepted death and I was ready to die,” she says.

Janie survived that day. She lost her laptop, her ID, her bag. But her mother — who raced to Jamie’s hospital bed — kept her clothes.

“I don’t think my mom threw them away because she wasn’t sure how my life was going to unfold after [the accident] or how I was going to unfold after that,” Janie says.

When Janie saw the sleeveless top and black cropped pants again for the first time, cleaned and in her closet, her body immediately reacted.

“I remember getting kind of a weird shiver. I knew right then and there, when I saw them folded, that I would keep them,” she says.

Investigators and first responders work near the wreckage of Amtrak 188 in May 2015. Eight people died, more than 200 were injured.

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Win McNamee/Getty Images

Her injuries were extensive: Janie had broken and torn all of the ligaments in her shoulder and suffered from jaw and hip injuries. She had shoulder surgery, in which a doctor added a plate and six screws. She had a hard time walking after the accident. At one point, she was going to physical therapy five days a week while she recovered at her parents’ home outside Atlanta. Even now, she goes to physical therapy and experiences chronic pain.

After five and a half months, Janie and her outfit headed back to New York City. Back to her job working in conflict resolution — her normal life. But nothing felt normal.

“One way PTSD manifests is you stop thinking about a future. I didn’t really realize it was happening until my PTSD counselor really challenged me, and was like, ‘What do you see as your future?’ ” Janie says. “I don’t see anything. I see nothing. I was just trying to survive.”

Janie’s PTSD followed her everywhere. It was triggered by scenes from Grey’s Anatomy and sirens on the streets. When her company moved downtown, PTSD lurked outside her new office window, in the form of a helicopter landing pad.

“All of the sudden I could see and hear helicopters. And they weren’t just high in the sky, one was getting lower and lower and lower to the ground,” she says. “It felt unsettling and felt like it would just transport me out of life for … a few seconds.”

When Janie decided to confront her PTSD by standing in front of the landing pad, she reached in her closet for a secret boost of strength.

“I knew I would want to put on my train wreck outfit, because I knew it would be hard and I knew I wanted a physical reminder that it was going to be OK,” she says.

During her lunch break, clad in her “train wreck outfit,” Janie would go watch the helicopters take off and land, pushing herself to stand closer. She did this once or twice a week for two months.

“I would just listen to the helicopter. Close my eyes and just try to really root myself in the space where I was, and think, ‘You are OK. You’re not in a train. And you’re not in a train wreck. Nothing has derailed and no one is going to die, in this immediate moment,” she says.

Then, one day in her apartment, Janie heard the sound of a helicopter — and wasn’t transported back to the accident. Her PTSD subsided. She’s no longer triggered by the sound of helicopters, but she still does not ride on above-ground trains.

Now on demanding work days, Janie’s choice of clothes is strategic. When she leads a presentation or musters up the courage to ask for a raise, she puts on that outfit.

“My former self was in those clothes, and then the self that was in the train wreck was in those clothes, and then the self I was trying to reconstruct was in those clothes, and that woman was OK,” Janie says.

Eventually, Amtrak reached a $265 million settlement with more than 100 victims and their families. And two years later, in 2018, charges including involuntary manslaughter were reinstated against the engineer. He awaits trial, which is currently scheduled for later this year.

As for Jamie, she’ll be in Italy this weekend, on her first overseas work trip since the accident. Same employer, same boss. And tucked in her suitcase will be the same black pants and floral top she wore four years ago.

She’ll wear that top, wash it and then hang in her closet, unscathed, and ready to be worn again.

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‘The Man They Wanted Me To Be’ Puts An Individual Experience In Broader Context

When I was kid in school, I was bullied a lot. Like many who have been bullied, I still carry the pain.

Back then I didn’t know why I was being bullied; I just figured there was something wrong with me. As I got older, however, I noticed more and more what my former bullies performed: toxic masculinity. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve been repelled by its expressions: quickness to anger; violence; pride in ignorance; self-protective stoicism; dead-eyed, predatory staring. Only in early adulthood did I start to see the problem, explicitly, for what it was.

This is all to say that reading Jared Yates Sexton’s The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making struck a very personal chord in me. But really, though, enough about me. This book is critically important to our historical moment. It’s also really good — and Sexton’s voice is unrelentingly present in it. It crackles with intensity and absolutely refuses to allow the reader to look away for even a moment from the blight that toxic masculinity in America has wrought.

This type of masculinity is certainly not a new phenomenon, of course. Sexton writes that it is “an especially potent and toxic system of power and control that has subjugated women and minorities for generations via methodical and organized actions powered by misogyny and racism, a unique brand of maleness that held sway over the United States of America since before its founding.”

A bold claim, no doubt. And true.

What also makes The Man They Wanted Me to Be work so well is that it’s largely a personal story. Sexton’s book is primarily about his childhood and young adulthood, his coming of age in the Midwest. He describes in absorbing detail the men around him in his youth as typifying the aggression, racism, misogyny, homophobia, manly incuriosity, and insecurity he considers central, historically, to American white maleness. Throughout, his mother is a very sympathetic anchor of stability in his life, while his father figures — for the most part — abuse drugs and alcohol, live recklessly, and/or are abusive to Sexton’s mother, and sometimes him too.

Sexton also succeeds in a truly difficult task: casting the abusive and self-destructive men in his life as simultaneously contemptible and victims themselves. Sexton writes that, in this realm, “socialization’s purpose is to not only teach gender expectations, but to weed out any ‘feminine’ characteristic, including, but not limited to, sensitivity, curiosity, creativity, weakness, and a desire to communicate past purposes of utility. This system works on the basis of positive and negative reinforcement.”

With socialization like this, a man’s tools for solving personal problems are few, while the potential to act badly is tough to manage.

In the most affecting section of the book, Sexton writes about the male role model in his life who showed him just how okay it is to not perform traditional masculinity: his grandfather. Sexton, though still young, had already grown suspicious of the strictures of toxic masculinity, and it was his grandfather who helped him see through it. Sexton writes:

“I’d been confused about masculinity for as long as I could remember, harbored suspicions that something wasn’t right, but it was Grandpa’s behavior that sealed that distrust. I still felt incredibly alone and shameful about my own shortcomings. Everyone I met, every father figure who entered my life, continually reinforced the notion that I should conduct myself as all of the other men around me, except for my grandfather, who embodied a contradiction so staggering and world-shaking that I couldn’t help but reassess what it meant to be a man.”

His grandfather would “weep without shame and treat his loved ones with affection and tenderness.” When somebody was sick, he “would cry and hold their hand, and whisper to them that he loved them and was there for them.” It might seem simple to some that basic human emotion and affection can be so liberating to a boy, but it’s only surprising to someone already free of the shackles of what it traditionally means to act like a so-called man.

Sexton’s book is also about his father’s transformation from a mostly absent and self-destructive parent to someone more present, more informed, more reflective. Yet all the while, outside, white patriarchal masculinity was giving rise to what Sexton considers one of its ugliest manifestations: the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Sexton attended Trump rallies during the 2016 presidential campaign to observe and document what transpired — and what he found was that for however many redemption stories like his father’s were out there, the wild-eyed aggressive bigotry spitting and raging at Trump rallies showed that America still had a long way to go. Sexton writes:

“Trump succeeded because he is the personification of white American masculinity. His gruff demeanor, constant threats, boasting about his money and power, his wanton promiscuity, his propensity for blatant cruelty, and his bullying of opponents, which was like something out of a schoolyard socialization, are all traits we’ve come to associate with men in this country…For those of us who have been surrounded by men whose arrogance is obviously overcompensation, who talk at length about their money, power, and prowess while exposing their insecurities for the world, you cannot help but see the same in Trump.”

So how do we as a culture get past toxic masculinity when, as Sexton suggests, its paragon occupies the Oval Office and its pathology is empowered? Sexton’s great book points the way.

The preoccupation with dominance and submission that is part and parcel of toxic masculinity can seem like an intractable problem. It means that maleness is predicated on anyone who doesn’t fit its narrow definition being kept down, that being a man is contingent upon suppression and aggression. But it doesn’t need to be. After all, Sexton points to examples in his own book of men who have detoxified their masculinity (or resisted the pull of its toxic norms), which is encouraging. All it takes is a little reflection, a little independence, and a little self-acceptance, which, truth be told, is a lot.

Nicholas Cannariato is a writer and editor based in Chicago.

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