Putting an End to School Lunch Shaming
In our region, 1 in 8 children are hungry through no fault of their own.
A local Minnesota school was recently in the news for publicly shaming students for owing the school district more than $15 in lunch debt. The students were singled out and humiliated for something out of their control. The hot meals on their trays were taken from them and thrown away.
This kind of school lunch shaming occurs all too often, but some school districts—including South Saint Paul Public Schools (SSPPS)—are taking a proactive approach to stopping it.
To remove the stigma of requesting an Application for Educational Benefits (AEB), commonly known as the free and reduced-cost lunch form, the school district began requiring all families to complete the form, either by signing up if they qualified, or opting out. The district also began offering multiple ways for families to sign up, including online and through the mail. And at the start of the school year, the district has family support workers reach out to those families that qualified the previous year but hadn’t completed an application for the current year.
Nearly 50 percent of families in the district qualify for free or reduced-cost school meals.
Getting qualifying families signed-up for benefits is a vital step in ensuring that all students are getting the meals they need to thrive in school. Requiring all families to fill-out an AEB normalizes the process so qualifying families receive meal benefits and the school receives funding from federal reimbursements.
Dr. David Webb, superintendent of the South Saint Paul School District, emphasizes that all students in his district receive a warm meal regardless of the balance in their accounts.
“While the district is under no legal obligation to do so, SSPPS believes this approach is in the best interest of the students,” he said. “SSPPS works with families who have negative meal accounts, partnering with them to identify ways to correct negative account balances.”
In addition, the school district facilitates a Student Support Fund that helps fund meals for SSPPS students in need. Individuals can choose to donate to the Student Support Fund at any time, and current SSPPS families are able to transfer unused balances (e.g. when a student graduates) to the Student Support Fund upon request.
“It’s important not to judge families who experience financial challenges and hardships,” Dr. Webb said. “The focus in SSPPS is on ensuring all students have access to a balanced, nutritious meal because we know it’s difficult to concentrate when they’re hungry. By removing the barrier of hunger for students, they are healthier and better able to focus on learning.”
Help Us Feed More Hungry Kids
Minnesota children deserve the best educations possible, no matter their ZIP code or economic status. And they deserve to eat lunch without being stigmatized for their families’ financial situations. Second Harvest Heartland works with schools and school districts to implement meal programs and increase access to benefits.
Childhood hunger in Minnesota is a serious issue that can impact children’s day-to-day lives and their long-term ability to succeed. When kids are hungry, anxiety and poor behaviors rise, learning is compromised, and physical and mental development can be affected.