Minnesota schools that provide alternative meals to students who are behind on meal payments are breaking state law, according to a new opinion issued by Minnesota's attorney general.
The state banned lunch shaming last year; however, Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) Commissioner Dr. Heather Mueller asked Attorney General Keith Ellison for clarification on the law after receiving reports about some schools offering alternative meals to students who had accumulated debt.
Ellison’s opinion states that providing alternative meals to students can bring them negative attention and is therefore another form of lunch shaming.
The opinion is binding and goes into effect immediately unless a court rules otherwise, MDE stated. Schools that have been offering alternative meals were notified by MDE that they must update their policy in accordance to the law.
“This is an important step forward for our students and our families,” Mueller said in a statement. “Every student deserves to be treated with dignity and fed while they’re at school. Differential treatment, lunch shaming or otherwise demeaning or stigmatizing the student for unpaid meal balances must not continue. We will continue to work to ensure all schools have the resources so all children have access to free meals while at school.”
Many school districts throughout the country are now grappling with meal debt and rising costs after the pandemic-era waivers that allowed schools to serve meals to all students for free expired this summer.
Some states opted to provide funding to continue serving universal free school meals for this school year.
Most recently, Colorado voters voted in favor of increasing state taxes by about $100 million annually to provide universal free meals to all public school students. The state now joins Maine and California in making universal free school meals a permanent addition to the school day.