After receiving a letter from Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota's education commissioner, earlier this week, Prior Lake-Savage Superintendent Sue Ann Gruver decided to change the district's procedure for handling students with no lunch money.
Cassellius' letter urged Minnesota superintendents to "find ways to ensure children are never turned away from receiving a hot meal." She also noted that for some kids, hot lunch is the only meal they receive each day.
As a result, all Prior Lake-Savage students will now receive a regular hot lunch, regardless of their account balance. Previously, these students received a sandwich and milk, said Kristi Mussman, the district's spokeswoman.
"I think the bottom line is that we just want to make sure that all students have a hot meal because they learn best when they receive a nutritious meal during the day," Mussman said.
"We're really talking about reduced-price lunch here," she added.
For students paying regular price, "we're just going to work closely with families to make sure that money is placed back in students' lunch accounts while continuing to provide a hot, main-line meal," she said.
When kids run out of lunch money, lunchroom staff still stamp kids' hands as a reminder, but they are looking at more discreet ways of informing parents about account balances, she said.
The district was already working toward implementing a new online system for paying for hot lunch. The system will send parents an e-mail when kids are low on funds. That should be helpful, because some parents simply don't know when their student's account is in the red, she said.
Cassellius' letter came on the heels of a report issued earlier this week by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid finding that many districts have "questionable practices that have garnered national media attention and scrutiny," such as stamping hands and dumping lunches in the trash. The report found 46 Minnesota districts immediately or eventually refuse to serve students who cannot pay the 40 cents for a reduced-price lunch.
Two weeks ago, a Utah school was in the news for throwing away 40 kids' lunches in front of them because they didn't have enough money in their accounts.