Lawmakers speak after Richfield students' lunches thrown away over outstanding debt

There is outrage in Richfield this week after hot lunches for 40 students were thrown away because of outstanding lunch debt.

Now, Minnesota lawmakers are speaking up about the issue.

Richfield Schools says what happened at the high school Monday is not part of their protocol and that they “deeply regret” what happened in the lunch line.

Wednesday, lawmakers on the state and national level are speaking out, saying situations like this need to end.

“Not again, that was really my…that was my initial response,” said Rep. Tony Jurgens (R-Cottage Grove).

Jurgens says he continues to hear about the issue.

“Who in their right mind thinks it’s OK to dump some kids’ lunch in the garbage?” he said. “That’s the thing I have a hard time wrapping my mind around.”

The school district told FOX 9 that approximately 40 hot lunches were removed from students who had a lunch debt of $15 or more. They were handed cold lunches and the hot lunches were taken from them and thrown away.

“It is NEVER our protocol to take lunch away from a student under any circumstances,” said Richfield Schools in an email. “What happened Monday was a mistake and it was corrected the same day – before our third lunch period.”

The school told FOX 9 those students were supposed to be notified privately of the lunch debt and then work with them to find a solution.

The district added, “We deeply regret our actions yesterday and the embarrassment that it caused several of our students. We have met with some of the students involved and apologized to them.”

There is a law in Minnesota prohibiting so-called “lunch shaming.”

“The throwing out of a perfectly good lunch and then, here you have to have a subpar lunch, is part of what is seen as demeaning,” said Sen. Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury).

That legislation passed in 2014, but Kent and Jurgens are working together to clarify the language of the law with a new bill.

“This practice is already illegal, but obviously, that’s not working. So, what we’re looking to do is obviously trying to strengthen that by being more specific with what exactly we mean by saying school lunch shaming is not allowed,” said Jurgens.

The legislation has passed the house, but still needs a committee hearing in the senate to move along. Meanwhile, this story is catching the eye of leaders in Washington.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, Sen. Tina Smith and Sen. Bernie Sanders have all tweeted about what happened in Richfield, saying it was shameful and outrageous.

Omar also said she has a bill with Smith to end lunch shaming and one with Sanders to make school meals universal.