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School district hires debt collectors to recoup $160K in unpaid lunch fees

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"Gimme your lunch money" is what parents of children in Minnesota's largest school district might be told in January.

Hundreds of parents have racked up debt with the Anoka-Hennepin School District by not paying for their children's lunches, with the district owed as much as $160,000 in all, MPR reports.

With just 1 percent of parents in debt to the district, KSTP says this means the debt comes from just 370 or so families – with one said to owe $4,600.

The district's director of child nutrition Noah Atlas told MPR it has been reaching out to parents to set up payment plans, with anyone who refuses likely to be referred to a collection agency.

According to ABC Newspapers, one-third of the debt has been traced back to 123 students whose parents each owe more than $350 – enough to pay for one full year of lunches.

The newspaper says that the school district's lunch debt rose 61 percent between the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years, and another 48 percent between 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.

KSTP says Anoka-Hennepin is the first school district in Minnesota to hire a collections agency.

While the debts are being paid off, students whose parents owe money will be denied certain privileges.

Negative balances will be added to students' high school fines and fees list and students will be denied access to a la carte menu items, ABC Newspapers notes.

Students cannot be denied food altogether though, after Minnesota lawmakers took steps last year to ensure that students who have negative balance can still get meals at lunchtime.

A bipartisan bill was passed to guarantee hot lunches for K-12 students after it was reported that 15 percent of school districts denied meals to in-debt children.

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