Like a bad meal that revisits hours after eating, lunch shaming in school cafeterias keeps coming back up in Minnesota.
No school cafeteria worker should ever take away the lunch of any child because of a zero balance in his meal account. No child should get a shaming stamp on her hand for nonpayment. No child should be given a sack of cold food in front of peers who are handed hot food trays.
The most recent lunch-shaming incident to draw notice occurred this fall in the Richfield district when lunches were being tossed because students owed $15 or more. At least administrators stepped in and stopped the practice when they became aware.
But this shouldn’t be happening anywhere anymore. Two years ago the Stewartville district gained attention for scraping students’ lunches into buckets if bills hadn’t been paid, and that was supposed to be the last lunch-shaming incident.
Luckily, students in the Mankato Area Public Schools District aren’t ever subjected to such treatment. Local policy is that no child is denied a meal or given a lower-cost substitute meal if their family is behind on lunch payments.
That practice needs to be adopted statewide.
School districts need to train its food service workers to adhere to no-shaming practices or face dismissal.
And the Legislature needs to pass a law, as previously proposed, to strengthen the protection of students who should eat nutritious meals every school day, no matter their ability to pay or the possible lack of action by their parents.
With that protection, the state needs to step up and help districts pay for the meal debt. Unfunded mandates are already a burden for districts, such as trying to pay for special education services.
Resolving the payment issue is complex and likely multifaceted, depending on the situation of each district and their method of reaching out to parents who are behind on payments.
But one fact remains perfectly clear and concrete about the lunch-shaming that keeps surfacing: Children deserve better.