Archived Story

Survey: Schools denying lunch

Published 10:30am Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Majority of Minn. districts deny hot lunch to children who cannot pay; Albert Lea is not among them

By Albert Lea Tribune and Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — A new survey shows a majority of school districts in Minnesota deny hot lunch, and sometimes any lunch, to children who can’t pay.

The report comes after a school in Utah drew criticism for throwing lunches in the trash if students couldn’t pay.

Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius called the report “troubling” and urged schools to make sure kids never are turned away from a hot meal. “As you know, for too many of our children, school meals may be the only nutritious meals they receive,” she wrote in a letter to superintendents.

On Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton said he would propose in the upcoming legislative session that lawmakers authorize an additional $3.5 million to help schools cover lunch costs for students who can’t.

“No child in Minnesota should be denied a healthy lunch,” Dayton said in a press release from his office.

About 62,000 low-income children and teens are in Minnesota’s reduced-price lunch program, which means they can get a hot, nutritious lunch for 40 cents, with the rest covered by public funds. But if students don’t have 40 cents, some schools deny or downgrade lunches.

Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid questioned 309 school districts for the survey.

Forty-six Minnesota school districts said they immediately or eventually refuse to feed students who can’t pay. Districts in the Albert Lea area — Albert Lea, Alden-Conger, Glenville-Emmons, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and United South Central — were not on the list of 46. However, a few districts nearby were: Blooming Prairie, Blue Earth, Chatfield, Houston, Kasson-Mantorville, Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial, Lanesboro, Owatonna, St. James, Waseca and Windom.

Also, the district Albert Lea Superintendent Mike Funk came from — Bird Island-Olivia-Lake Lillian — was on the list.

More than half the districts in the state — 166 of them — provide an alternative meal, typically a cold cheese sandwich. Another 96 school districts provide a hot lunch regardless of ability to pay.

The Albert Lea area districts were not on this list, either, but some in the region that were are: Austin, Byron, Caledonia, Cleveland, Fairmont, Faribault, Fillmore Central, Grand Meadow, Jackson County, Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton, Kenyon-Wanamingo, Le Sueur-Henderson, Le Roy-Ostrander, Lyle, Medford, New Prague, New Ylm, Nicollet, St. Charles, Triton, Truman and Zumbrota-Mazeppa.

The survey found some schools take meals from students in the lunch line and dump them in the trash when they don’t have money in their accounts. Some send students home with a hand stamp that everyone can see that says “LUNCH” or “MONEY.” Others give students a bread-and-butter sandwich and carton of milk.

“They have budgetary pressures and they have new federal mandates for healthy foods, (and) food has gotten more expensive,” said Jessica Webster, staff attorney for Legal Aid’s Legal Services Advocacy Project, which conducted the survey with support from Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “Many just see this as a parental responsibility. Some districts don’t see refusing to serve food as turning children away. They say, ‘We give you a cheese sandwich for three days and then it’s your parents’ responsibility.”’

A measure that would expand the free lunch program to all students who now receive reduced-price lunch never made it into the education budget bill last session. Rep. Yvonne Selcer, DFL-Minnetonka, is preparing to push the bill again this year.

Link to Star Tribune story.

Link to original report.

  1. Gus Broten

    Oh this article is full of B.S. , ALBERT LEA high school does NOT give you a hot lunch if you cannot pay , you get a sandwich and milk plus you get a stamp on your hand saying you don’t have any money!
    Also our child when in elementary wanted to give half his lunch to another student , but was told NO he cannot share HIS lunch if you don’t want it throw it in the trash!