It made national headlines two weeks ago because it happened in a Utah school. But it made local headlines eleven years ago because it was happening here too.
Students went through the lunch line but, if there wasn’t enough money in their lunch account, their trays were taken away from them and emptied into the garbage. In front of them and their schoolmates. It was a lose-lose situation all the way around: students were humiliated, food was wasted, and the school still lost money.
In 2003 when our reporters Kristin Kubisiak and Candi Walz did the story, this was official school policy. But the principals and school board didn’t know that, and they were as horrified as our reporters were. The school board quickly changed the policy.
Today, in the Kimball schools, students who don’t have enough money in their lunch account can get a peanut butter sandwich, and a carton of milk. The back of the student’s hand is stamped to remind parents to pay into the account.
At Eden Valley-Watkins schools, students with insufficient funds in their lunch accounts are still given a hot lunch.
According to a recent article in the St. Cloud Times, prompted by the incident in Utah, about
70 percent of schools in central Minnesota provide a cold sandwich and milk in place of a hot lunch for those students who can’t pay. Statewide, that rate is more than 50 percent. Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid surveyed 309 school districts in the state and found that 46 districts eventually stop serving food to those students.
The three central Minnesota schools that provide hot lunch no matter what are Eden Valley-
Watkins, Little Falls, and Paynesville.
Gov. Mark Dayton, much to his credit, has proposed allocating about $3.5 million of state funds to make up the 40-cent difference for students on reduced lunch. This way individual districts are not forced to absorb the additional expense, at a time when budgets are already stretched thinly.
Students may be eligible for free lunch, or reduced lunch (at
40 cents per meal). Otherwise, students pay full price, or can bring in a lunch from home.
Don’t blame the lunch ladies for following district policy. Contact your school principal if you feel something needs to be changed. The policy is set by each school district.