Let’s work together to change school lunch debt policies across North Dakota

School lunch debt policies routinely make headlines across the country.

While the policies vary from district to district – at some schools, children’s meals are thrown away for unpaid lunch bills or at others students are barred from participating in extra-curricular activities – one thing is certain: these policies punish people struggling with poverty.

It’s happening in North Dakota, too.

In Minot, a recent public school board policy update dictates that a student can only accrue up to $15 in lunch debt. After that, the student is provided with an alternative lunch and the family’s debt can be sent to collections. The policy also states that kids with outstanding lunch debt can be prevented from participating in fee-based extra-curricular activities until the lunch bill has been paid and says school district personnel can report any suspected abuse or neglect of a child as required by law.

While some families are able to qualify for assistance, many working families make too much to qualify but not enough to make ends meet. Sometimes, private donors step in to help foot the bills. Jason Boynton, a math professor at North Dakota State University, hosted a charity music show called Lunch Aid in September to pay off nearly $20,000 in student lunch debt in Fargo. And in January, a private donor paid off more than $28,000 in additional lunch debt at Fargo Public Schools.  

But soliciting donations to cover school lunch debt isn’t exactly a sustainable solution

North Dakota kids deserve better than this. Helping our kids today will only help make North Dakota stronger tomorrow.

The Minot Public School Board is holding a special meeting on Feb. 13 to discuss the district’s lunch debt policy. The ACLU of North Dakota and the North Dakota AFL-CIO are encouraging people to attend the meeting and speak up about the policy.

After all, community input on issues like this is important. And it works.

You don’t have to look far to see an example. Thanks to a recent Fargo School Board policy update, families will no longer have to worry about being sent to collections or referred to social services over lunch debt. The school board’s decision to change its policy is a great example of what happens when our elected officials make decisions with input from the community. That’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Improving a school district’s lunch debt policy is something we can do to ensure our kids have the best possible learning environment. But we can’t do it alone. Solving problems is easier when we come together as a community.

Will your community be next? Let’s make a difference for the future of North Dakota together.