After video footage of school cafeteria staff throwing hot meals out surfaced on the internet, Richfield High School in Minnesota has faced quite the heat.
Lately, school lunch debt has become a recurring issue within institutions across the United States. Whether it's news about how a wealthy individual had to come forward to pay off these debts or how students themselves had to fundraise in order to do so, it seems that school lunch debt is a pervasive problem that affects children and families no matter where they're from. However, a school in Minnesota recently came under fire for throwing out hot meals meant to be served to over 40 students because they had outstanding lunch debts worth over $15. Richfield High School has since apologized for their actions, NBC News reports.
On Monday, November 11, video footage of Richfield High School cafeteria staff throwing out hot meals surfaced, causing much outrage. Students reportedly had their hot lunches taken off their trays, thrown out, and then received cold lunches as a replacement for the meals. The incident quickly went viral on social media platforms, which persuaded the school to promptly apologize for their unethical actions. Richfield Superintendent Steven Unowsky claimed that the actions of the cafeteria staff were "inappropriate." However, the staff surely must have received instructions from the school administration staff. Richfield High School Principal Latanya Daniels took responsibility for the incident. "One of the things we can do is model failure with grace," she said. "We absolutely failed in this situation and our team is working to try and rectify [the] mistakes we made."
The school also affirmed in an official statement posted to Facebook, "Today at Richfield High School, our nutrition services staff began implementing an existing practice that students with a meal balance of -$15 or more are provided with an alternate lunch. Unfortunately, this was not implemented in line with our guidelines or our values. Once our administration was made aware of the situation, we immediately ceased the practice in time for the third lunch period. We deeply regret our actions today and the embarrassment that it caused several of our students. We have met with some of the students involved and apologized to them. High school administration will also be meeting with student government this week to talk about the situation and listen to what students have to say."
The school then went on to clarify the steps they were taking to ensure that students did not feel singled out during lunchtime and received the nutritious meals they require in order to focus at school. They explained, "Tables will be set up in the RHS cafeteria during lunch all week for students to check their account balance and ask questions of our nutrition services staff. If parents have questions, they can access their child’s account online through FeePay or contact their child’s school nutrition staff. They can also contact our Nutrition Services office."
Meanwhile, several parents and other members of the community have contacted the school administration to understand how they can help students pay off their lunch debts. As the Richfield High School district has more than $19,669 in outstanding lunch account balances, a donation of any amount helps. The school has thus set up a donation page where individuals can make a donation towards offsetting the negative balances. If you'd like to make a donation, you can do so here. Though the compassion and kindness of community members will help students with lunch debts receive hot meals henceforth, there is no doubt that stronger government action must be taken to prevent such incidents from occurring in the first place. Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who represents Richfield, introduced a bill to end school lunch debt shaming called the "No Shame at School Act" with fellow Minnesota Democratic Senator Tina Smith. Omar has also been a sponsor of the Universal School Meals Program Act, which would provide free breakfast, lunch, and dinner to every student in America. Hopefully, these federal policies will make a positive change in the lives of students in Minnesota and across the country.