Archived Story

Students: Don’t forget your lunch money

Published 11:29am Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Some Minnesota children go to school hungry and leave even hungrier.

A majority of public school districts in this state deny hot lunch — or any lunch at all in some cases — to children who can’t pay for them. Some schools take the meals from students in the lunch line and dump them in the trash when the computer shows a deficit in their lunch accounts.

Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius on Monday called the report “troubling,” and fired off a letter to district superintendents.

“Like me, I know that none of you would deny a child a nutritious lunch intentionally,” she wrote. “I am hoping you will speak with your food service directors regarding this information and find ways to ensure children are never turned away from receiving a hot meal.”

About 62,000 low-income children and teens take part in Minnesota’s reduced-price lunch program.

That should mean that for 40 cents, they get a hot, nutritious lunch, with the remainder of the cost covered by public funds.

But if students fail to come up with even 40 cents, some schools respond by denying or downgrading students’ lunches, as Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid discovered when it surveyed 309 public school districts.

Some school districts send students home with a verbal warning for their parents or a hand stamp visible to all that says “LUNCH” or “MONEY.”

Others hand children a bread-and-butter sandwich and carton of milk in lieu of a hot lunch.

In a survey released Monday, 46 Minnesota school districts told Legal Aid that they immediately or eventually refuse to feed students who have insufficient funds in their lunch accounts.

More than half the districts in the state — 166 of them — provide an alternative meal, typically a cold cheese sandwich, once the money runs out.

Another 96 school districts, including the Minneapolis public schools, provide a hot lunch regardless of a child’s ability to pay.

Students qualify for free lunch if their family makes less than about $25,000.

After that they qualify for reduced-price lunch if their family makes less than $36,131.

Above that, students must pay full price — an average of $10 per week per student.

A school in Utah made national headlines last month for throwing lunches in the trash if students couldn’t pay.

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