SAINT PAUL - KTTC in Rochester reported last Thursday that the Stewartville School District instructed its lunchroom staff to publicly dump the food trays of students who had a negative balance on their school lunch account and hand those students a sandwich.
"It is outrageous and un-Minnesotan that a school would adopt a policy to publicly shame students in front of their classmates. It is cruel and it is also a violation of Minnesota state law," said Rep. Paul Thissen. "In 2014, the Minnesota legislature enacted Rep. Yvonne Selcer's bill that requires school districts ‘to ensure that any reminders for payment of outstanding student meal balances do not demean or stigmatize any child participating in the school lunch program.' Stewartville should immediately change its policy and the Minnesota Department of Education should clarify the current rules for all the state school districts."
Stewartville is not the only school district in Minnesota where this has occurred. Recent media stories highlight similar instances in Monticello and Stillwater. In response, Rep. Thissen called for the State of Minnesota to provide every student attending K-12 schools a free lunch.
"When it comes to school kids and their success, it's time there is such a thing as a free lunch. If a child is hungry, she cannot focus on her classwork. Grades and test scores decline and behavioral problems increase dramatically. In that sense, a good, nutritious meal is just as essential to educational success as a science lab or an excellent textbook. We share in paying for those parts of our students' education; school lunch should be no different," said Rep. Thissen. "In addition, schools will no longer have to be debt collectors.”
“We also should not be singling children out because of some financial bar,” said Rep. Thissen. “School is challenging enough for growing kids; we really don’t need to separate and stigmatize a student because of something outside their control.”
The story about Stewartville notes that the district is facing $10,000 in unpaid school lunch charges. That is a serious challenge. In fact, according to the Minnesota School Nutrition Association, the gap between producing a healthy school lunch and the revenues received by school districts is 47 cents for every meal served. Under the proposal, the State is Minnesota will cover the cost of providing school lunches taking that burden off of local districts. Notably, under the Community Eligibility Provision of the federal School Lunch Program, some school districts in Minnesota already provide free school lunches to every child. This proposal will create geographic equity as well.
“Thanksgiving comes this Thursday, a holiday where we celebrate the abundance we’ve been blessed with in this state and country,” said Rep. Thissen. “There is no better time for Minnesota – a state of such incredible agricultural richness – to commit to making nutritious lunches for every child a reality!”