ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota lawmaker says she’s exploring ways to force school districts to back off hard-line tactics for students with school lunch debt.

Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, is pushing the effort, the Star Tribune reported . The move comes amid reports that a Minnesota school cafeteria worker took food from the trays of children who owed lunch money and disposed the food into a bucket as the children watched.

Children should never be shamed for owing lunch money, Anderson said, adding: “It’s a school-sanctioned bullying of children.”

Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius urged school districts to cover the debts with reserve funds rather than shame children or deny them a meal.

“Taking food away from a child in front of their peers, or limiting their access to school activities or athletics over meal debt, is downright wrong — not to mention mean,” Cassellius said.

Anderson has suggested one possible method to encourage districts to be more lenient is to take away state aid from districts employing harsh tactics.

Anderson said she was inspired to do something after reading about how a worker at a school in Stewartville took food from the trays of students and threw it away. The superintendent of Stewartville Public Schools didn’t return the newspaper’s request for comment.

Jessica Webster, a staff attorney for advocacy group Legal Services Advocacy Project, said children should never have to fear being turned away from lunch. She said they also shouldn’t be put in the middle of a transaction that’s between the district and parents.

Rep. Paul Thissen, a Democrat from Minneapolis, is pushing for the state to provide all students a free lunch.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill three years ago that banned any demeaning actions taken toward students because of lunch debts.

“I thought we took care of this. I thought it was clear,” Anderson said. “I’m frustrated at this point. I’m looking for the right answer.”


Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com