A Minnesota school district is apologizing after video captured high school students’ hot lunches being taken from them and thrown away because they owed more than $15 in lunch debt.
The Richfield Public School District, in a statement on Monday, said its lunch debt policy was poorly enforced when the food was confiscated and replaced with a designated cold lunch.
According to local station KARE 11, as many as 40 students had their lunches thrown away at Richfield High School on Monday. A Facebook video obtained by the station shows one girl’s meal being replaced with an unidentified item and sheet of paper before she slinks away.
“Our nutrition staff inaccurately and inappropriately implemented alternate lunch,” Richfield Public Schools Superintendent Steven Unowsky told the station.
The district also issued an apology on its Facebook page for “the embarrassment that it caused several of our students.”
“We have met with some of the students involved and apologized to them. High school administration will also be meeting with student government this week to talk about the situation and listen to what students have to say,” the post read.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was among those who vented anger over the school lunch incident, which she called “shameful.”
“No student should be denied food PERIOD,” she said on Twitter, before promoting a bill she sponsors that would end school lunch shaming and another with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders that would make school lunches free.
Richfield School District’s current lunch policy, which is posted on its website, states that middle school and high school students with more than $15 in lunch debt ― or $25 for elementary students ― are designated cold meals. If they somehow obtain a hot lunch while in the lunch line, they are allowed to keep and eat it, KARE reported.
The cost of the hot meal should be noted in the student’s account balance and their parents should be notified in a phone call, school leaders told the TV station. The student should also be notified, privately, before they enter the lunch line again and they could be privately approached by a social worker or guidance counselor to discuss what needs they may have.
Lunch for high school and middle school students costs $2.95, while elementary school lunches are $2.70. Parents do have the ability to apply for free or reduced meals online, according to the district’s website.
The school district said it currently has more than $19,669 in outstanding lunch account balances. That amount includes last year’s deficit. It is accepting donations from those wanting to help pay it off.
Such lunch debt issues are unfortunately nothing new.
A New Jersey school district found itself in hot water last month after it said students who owe more than $75 in lunch debt could be banned from participating in extracurricular activities, including purchasing a yearbook.
The district was previously criticized for suggesting that students with a certain amount of lunch debt will be designated tuna fish sandwiches, which some likened to a “badge of shame.”
In July, a Pennsylvania school district warned that its students could end up in foster care if they didn’t pay their overdue lunch bills, suggesting that it could lead to dependency hearings.
In 2016, a Pittsburgh school district cafeteria worker quit her job after being told to deny children hot meals if they owed $25 or more. The following year, the state passed legislation that banned “lunch shaming,” but this policy was reversed this summer due to ballooning debt, WHYY reported.
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