Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid says 15 percent of Minnesota school districts that responded to a recent survey report their policies allow lunchroom staff to refuse hot meals to students who can't pay.
The nonprofit says 309 of Minnesota's 330 districts answered the survey. Of those, 46 said they allow staff to deny students food if their lunch account balances are in the red.
Legal Aid attorney Jessica Webster says more than half of districts offer alternatives -- such as peanut butter sandwiches -- to students who are unable to pay for a 40-cent reduced-price lunch. But she says even that's insulting to kids from low income families.
"You're putting the kid in an untenable position, when they're standing at the counter without money and the lunch person is telling them 'tell your parents, put money in the account,' and the parent doesn't have the money," Webster said.
What happens to the food? "If they've come to the front of the line with their tray in hand, what typically happens is the district recycles on that tray what can be recycled, like a peach cup, or something that's closed, and a carton of milk. And if the other food is exposed, it has to be dumped. That's a public health requirement," Webster said.
Nearly a third of districts -- including Minneapolis and Anoka-Hennepin -- say they never deny students a hot lunch.