MOORHEAD — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison issued an opinion Wednesday, May 15, that public school districts may not restrict students with unpaid lunch debt from taking part in graduation ceremonies.
“Public schools are prohibited from denying students — who are eligible to receive their diploma — the opportunity to participate in graduation ceremonies due to unpaid meal debts,” Ellison's opinion stated.
Ellison's opinion was prompted by a report that some districts were denying students from taking part in graduation ceremonies because of meal debts. But that hasn't been the case in Moorhead Area Public Schools.
Superintendent Brandon Lunak said the district supports the opinion and it doesn’t change how senior meal debt is already dealt with.
“It's going to be business as usual in Moorhead. I like to see kids participate in graduation if they earned the right to do so,” Lunak said. “In our case, the only thing that would prevent a student from taking part in graduation is not having enough credits or having too many detentions that were never served.”
Lunak said a graduation checklist evaluating a senior’s progress included addressing meal debt, but high school administrators never enforce the criteria and let seniors graduate even if they have a negative balance.
“We don't want to hold that against the student who has very little control over the ability to pay,” he said.
Seniors with unused lunch money in their accounts have the option of donating leftover funds to other families with meal debt, Lunak added. People in the community sometimes drop off or mail in checks to be applied to lunch debt, he said.