Press Release: MDE says Attorney General’s opinion on lunch shaming is a win for students and families

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Press Release Minnesota Department of Education

For Immediate Release

Contact:  Kevin Berns


November 18, 2022

MDE says Attorney General’s opinion on lunch shaming is a win for students and families

Binding opinion issued in response to request from Education Commissioner Mueller

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) applauded Attorney General Keith Ellison’s opinion that all students are entitled to the same healthy, full school meal, regardless of lunch debt. Commissioner Heather Mueller had asked the Attorney General for clarification after receiving reports that a number of public schools or districts across Minnesota had adopted policies whereby students with unpaid meal balances are denied lunch items from the scheduled menu for the day. Students with unpaid meal balances are provided instead with what schools and districts refer to as an “alternate meal,” a “minimum meal,” or a “courtesy meal.”

“This is an important step forward for our students and our families,” says MDE Commissioner Dr. Heather Mueller. “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.”

Under Minnesota law, the Commissioner of Education may request a formal opinion of the Attorney General on "any question arising under the laws relating to public schools." Once issued, the Attorney General's opinion is binding unless a court rules otherwise.

Yesterday’s opinion takes effect immediately, and today MDE has notified school districts to immediately implement a policy that all students be offered the same meals regardless of meal debt.

According to the Attorney General’s opinion, providing an alternate meal not on the scheduled menu violates a Minnesota law (Minn. Stat. § 124D.111) that requires respectful treatment of students regarding school lunch debt and prohibits limiting access to many aspects of school life based on meal debt.

“Minnesota law is clear: students whose families are struggling to afford their lives cannot be denied a regular school lunch or offered a substandard alternate meal in place of a regular lunch,” says Attorney General Ellison. “That practice is another form of ‘lunch shaming’ that is an affront to the dignity of those students and is not allowed under the law.”

In the opinion, Attorney General Ellison states, “An alternate or minimum meal could also bring negative attention, especially if alternate or minimum meals are provided for no reason other than meal debt. If identifiable alternate meals are provided only or primarily to students with outstanding meal debt, these students are clearly identified among their peers as owing meal debt. As such, the practice would stigmatize a student. Even if many other students are opting for an alternate meal, the student who has no choice in the matter may, depending on the circumstances of how the meal is presented, feel demeaned or stigmatized.”

For information is available in the Attorney General's opinion.