Stewartville changed its school lunch policy that opened the door for 'lunch shaming'

Stewartville had enacted new rules that opened the door for "lunch shaming" students.
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Indignation over an updated school lunch policy that opened the door for "lunch shaming" if students owed money has already led to changes.

The situation in Stewartville led to a public outcry in recent weeks, from families of students in the district as well as state lawmakers, the governor, and the education commissioner. 

The pressure built after Stewartville Public Schools on Nov. 1 instituted a policy change that could result in a student with a negative lunch account balance seeing their hot meal get tossed in the bin, as KTTC reported.

This was especially troubling to people considering the state passed a law in 2014 specifically meant to stop such "lunch shaming" from happening. 

The school district had been facing a $10,000 deficit because of owed lunch money, a gap which it was trying to address. 

A GoFundMe to raise money to help pay off that balance ended up bringing in nearly that much.

The changes

The Stewartville school board, at a Monday night meeting, walked back this new policy, approving a list of changes to deter "lunch shaming" from happening, the Rochester Post-Bulletin reports.

You can see some of the changes in the agenda documents. It adds language that specifically says a student that doesn't have enough funds to buy a lunch will still be allowed to get it – and their account will go into the negative.

The language that said a student in the negative would get a $1 "alternate meal" has been struck.

And one section concludes, simply, with this: "All students will be provided a meal regardless of meal account status."

Earlier stories

What to do when students were behind on their lunch bill became a huge debate in the early months of 2014.

That was after Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid published a study that found 15 percent of school districts in the state reported denying kids from getting food if they owed money.

And in a few districts the child – if they'd already picked up their lunch – had the tray taken away from them, and the food thrown in the garbage.

Schools find themselves in a tough spot on this issue. The School Nutrition Association, a national non-profit group, says schools are doing what they can to eliminate embarrassment and stigma at mealtime, but the expense of unpaid meal debt is a growing financial problem for districts.

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