An end to ‘Lunch Shaming’: Minnesota Attorney General issues legally binding opinion

Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 6:10 PM CST
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - A school cafeteria can be a fun place for some students, but an intimidating one for others, especially if they don’t have enough money to pay for food.

A recent opinion from Minnesota’s Attorney General Keith Ellison aims to clarify the laws surrounding what he calls school lunch shaming statewide.

“If there’s a student who has a balance on their student lunch bill, the school is not allowed to give them a lunch like a bologna sandwich or a cheese sandwich when everybody else has a hot lunch,” said DFLer Keith Ellison, Attorney General for Minnesota.

According to Ellison, that cold lunch violates a Minnesota law that prohibits singling out kids with unpaid lunch debt.

He said more than 100 school districts state-wide were recently offering alternative meals to students with unpaid lunch debt.

“It is stigmatizing, kids do know, and they get teased, which leads to sometimes kids being excluded,” Ellison said.

According to Ellison, school districts have the right to pursue collections for unpaid lunch debt, but the pressure to collect those fees cannot be passed on to young students.

“I’m not insensitive to the financial pressures of the school districts. They do exist, but the problem is, the weight of this cannot fall on the shoulders of a child,” Ellison said.

Closer to the Northland, the students at Lowell Elementary in Duluth pay for their lunch by entering a code at the cash register, so no one knows if they’re paying full price, qualify for reduced or free lunch, or if their lunch account has a negative balance.

Duluth Public Schools Superintendent John Magas said his schools have kept lunch debt and aid information confidential for years.

It’s an issue he has a personal connection to.

“As a child, I received free lunch as a student, and I think it’s really important to reduce the stigma around families who might have that need,” Magas said.

He said when he was young, it was obvious which students received help.

“Sometimes it was embarrassing, and sometimes you felt teased or ridiculed for it,” Magas said.

According to Magas, there are resources available to help students and their families pay off their lunch debt. For information on that, click here.