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Editorial: It’s time to review no lunch policy

The recent report that examined Minnesota school district policies regarding student lunches when accounts have fallen into deficit put a harsh spotlight on the no lunch practices occurring in some school cafeterias.

The idea that a tray of food would be pulled away from a student in line for lunch struck many as preposterous. And then we heard it was happening. Here. In rural Minnesota. In Willmar.

The public reaction was stunning. Emails, letters to the editor and posts on the Tribune’s Facebook page ranged from concerns that some students may not have another hot meal all day to outrage over the humiliation. In fact, several adults shared their own vivid memories of being embarrassed in front of other students.

A school district policy that states lunch accounts must not fall into deficit sounds sensible enough. When that policy ultimately becomes the practice of pulling a tray away from a kid, however, sensibility has gone out the window.

District officials have said it’s rare — eight times this year in Willmar has a student been offered a sandwich instead of a hot meal because of an account deficit, and we take them at their word. Our experience with school officials, administrators and staff across the region shows that they are dedicated, good-hearted people who take very seriously the welfare of the children entrusted to their care during the school day.

But on this point, regarding this practice of pulling a lunch tray away from a child, they’re simply tone-deaf and a change is needed.

However “rare” it might be to deny hot lunch to a student, it’s become clear to us that the overwhelming public sentiment is that “rare” needs to become “never.” If it takes a policy change to make sure the practice is eliminated, so be it. School Boards? You’re up.

The New London-Spicer School District operates under the same rules barring a deficit in the food service program, yet NLS found a way to make sure every student has a hot lunch. With the help of a volunteer parent organization, NLS no longer pulls lunch trays from students.

Several other districts in the region have said they simply do not pull a tray under any circumstance.

We understand that smaller districts may have more flexibility than a district as large as Willmar, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but we can’t help but think Willmar officials need to explore some alternatives to current practice.