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 others 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 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.
“It’s easy to see why Minot’s lunch debt policy has some parents concerned,” said Dane DeKrey, advocacy director for the ACLU of North Dakota. “Lunch debt collection policies like this do nothing to help ensure our kids have the best possible learning environment. We need a policy that treats families with dignity and respect, not shame and threats.”
The Minot Public School Board plans to revisit its policy on how to handle school lunch debt during a special meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13. The ACLU of North Dakota and the North Dakota AFL-CIO are encouraging people to attend the meeting and speak up about the policy.
“School lunch debt is an issue that affects the entire state,” DeKrey said. “Helping our kids today will only help make North Dakota stronger tomorrow. We’re thrilled that the Minot Public School Board is seeking community input on this issue.”
About the ACLU of North Dakota
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of North Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes South Dakota and Wyoming. The team in North Dakota is supported by staff in those states.
The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people. In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women, and the LGBTQ communities. The ACLU of North Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of North Dakota.