Richfield High School is under the microscope after a lunch debt-shaming incident earlier this week, and the story has garnered the attention of Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.
After learning that more than 40 students were served hot lunch only to have it taken away and thrown in the garbage because of negative meal balances, Sanders called the incident "outrageous" and asked his GOP colleagues to support a bill that wipes out school lunch debt and provides three free meals to students across the country every day.
Sanders and Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar authored a bill in October that aims to:
- Prohibit school lunch programs from denying children hot meals.
- Wipe out existing delinquent meal debt and stop harassment of families.
- Increase reimbursement rates to schools for meal preparation.
The incident at Richfield High School happened Monday, Nov. 11, with KARE 11 reporting that more than 40 students were served a hot lunch only to have staff take the hot lunches, throw them in the garbage and replace them with cold lunch.
Richfield Public School released a statement apologizing for what it deemed an "existing practice" that was "not implemented in line with our guidelines or our values."
"We deeply regret our actions today and the embarrassment that it caused several of our students. We have met with some of the students involved and apologized to them. High school administration will also be meeting with student government this week to talk about the situation and listen to what students have to say," the statement says.
“Across this country, students whose families are struggling to afford school meals are being singled out and humiliated at lunchtime,” said Rep. Omar said in June. “These students are subjected to various shaming practices. Some have been literally branded with stamps. Others are given cheaper, less appetizing meals than the other students."
"No child should incur a debt because of their financial constraints beyond their control," Omar added.
Richfield Public Schools said outstanding balances in its district totaled more than $19,669, with approximately $9,000 of that carried over from last year. Donations have since raised upwards of $12,000 to help cover the late dues.