Lunch shaming isn’t legal under Minnesota law

Downgrading a student’s lunch due to insufficient funds is not legal, according to a new opinion issued by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Minnesota lawmakers banned lunchtime shaming with a law that took effect in July 2021. But Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid investigated more than 330 Minnesota school districts earlier this year and found 124 policies that appear to violate the new law. Ellison’s ruling comes after Legal Aid asked the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to investigate and consult with the attorney general.

Under Minnesota law, the commissioner of education can request a formal opinion from the attorney general on any law-related questions regarding public schools, according to an MDE news release Friday. Once issued, the attorney general’s opinion is binding unless a court decides otherwise and takes effect immediately.

“Minnesota law is clear: Students whose families are struggling to make ends meet cannot be denied a regular school lunch or offered a substandard alternative meal in place of a regular lunch,” Ellison said in the release. said. “That practice is another form of ‘lunch shaming’ which is an affront to the dignity of those students and is not permitted under the law.”

An alternative meal brings negative attention, leading to a student being clearly identified by peers and stigmatizing the student, Ellison wrote in his opinion. He also questioned whether providing the same Spartan meal every day for as long as a meal debt stood would follow federal nutrition requirements.

MDE notified school districts to implement a policy that allows all students to be offered the same meals, regardless of unpaid debt.

“This is an important step forward for our students and our families,” Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said in the release. “Disparate treatment, lunch shaming or otherwise denigrating or stigmatizing the student for unpaid meal balances must not continue. We will continue to work to ensure that all schools have the resources so that all children have access to free meals while at school .”

In addition to legislation that says schools may not humiliate or stigmatize students over unpaid lunch debt, districts are also prohibited from restricting student participation in graduation ceremonies, field trips or other extracurricular activities over unpaid debt.

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