School Throws Out Hot Meals For Students With $15 Or More In Lunch Debt

by Cassandra Stone

At least 40 students had their lunches thrown away, according to a news report

A Minnesota school district is under fire after a video surfaced showing high school cafeteria workers throwing away the hot lunches of students who have outstanding lunch debt. The district is now apologizing for their actions.

Students at Richfield High School who had an outstanding lunch debt of fifteen dollars or more had their lunches tossed, according to KARE 11. At least 40 students were directly singled out during the incident. The students in the lunch line had their hot lunches taken off of their trays, thrown in the trash, and replaced with a cold lunch when a lunchroom staff member at the register saw that they had an outstanding balance of more than $15.

“There are multiple failures we had in this situation and our job is to fix it. First and foremost in the way we treated our kids. We should never leave kids with the feeling they had from the experience,” Superintendent Steven Unowsky said.

High school principal Latanya Daniels also agrees that what happened to those students was wrong.

“One of the things we can do is model failure with grace. We absolutely failed in this situation and our team is working to try and rectify mistakes we made,” she said. She believes the issue could have been handled a lot differently, as does Unowsky.

Moving forward, if a student is in line with lunch on their tray, they will be allowed to keep it and eat it regardless of their balance at the register. The balance will be noted electronically, not verbally in front of others — which is intentional humiliation — and the student’s parents or guardian would be notified. The student will be approached privately by a school social worker or guidance counselor to help them figure out the finances. Any student with a remaining negative balance will be notified before they get into the lunch line again.

This is just the latest example of school lunch shaming — this summer, a Pennsylvania school district threatened to have students put in foster care if their parents failed to pay their child’s lunch debt. More recently, a New Jersey school district prevented students who had outstanding lunch balances from attending their high school prom.

Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar represents the district. Recently she, along with Minnesota Democrat Senator Tina Smith introduced a bill to end school lunch-debt shaming once and for all called the “No Shame at School Act.”

“Across this country, students whose families are struggling to afford school meals are being singled out and humiliated at lunchtime,” Rep. Omar said in a statement at the time. “No child should incur a debt because of their financial constraints beyond their control.”