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Don’t deny child lunch at school

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Don’t deny child lunch at school
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First, don’t make a kid pay for their parents’ shortcomings. Second, don’t throw perfectly good food in the garbage.

Welcome to the two most obvious policy changes Minnesota schools need to make in the wake of a survey released last week that revealed significant differences in how school districts handle low-income students whose parents fail to provide enough lunch money.

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This goal of the survey of 309 districts is simple: Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid wants legislation that prohibits schools from denying hot lunch to low-income students with no money in lunch accounts.

Gov. Mark Dayton quickly responded to the survey with a proposal to add $3.5 million in state money this session to make sure these kids get hot lunch. That’s an appreciative approach worth discussion, but the survey points to the need for changes on many levels.

The biggest change is also the most difficult one. To be blunt, it means getting parents to be more responsible about students’ lunch accounts — or at least more forthright with districts.

Please note the study focuses on low-income children who qualify for reduced-price meals. Their parents must pay 40 cents per lunch, which equates to about $70 a school year per student. Breakfast is free.

Granted, these households are struggling, but budgeting that amount during a school year seems reasonable. But even if parents don’t see it as possible they should be contacting the district in advance, not putting their child in a position to be essentially scorned in the lunch line.

Of course, that brings up other changes — most of which fall to school districts or the state.

Schools must do everything possible to avoid publicizing that a child does not have enough money to pay for hot lunch, especially when that child is at lunch.

The most unsettling policies include some harsh approaches that must be stopped immediately. Examples include policies that state “students will not be allowed to eat” and even pulling trays and dumping food when the child checks out. What good does that do?

The study found 46 districts implement such steps because they immediately or eventually refuse to serve hot lunch or an alternative meal to a child who cannot pay. Sauk Rapids-Rice is among those.

Other troubling findings statewide included stamping hands of children with lunch debts and providing them verbal warnings.

As the survey noted, districts stressed such steps are generally not taken until an account is in debt.

That’s good. Now just make sure those steps are implemented in ways that don’t make the students pay for a bill over which they obviously have no control.  — St. Cloud Times

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