Minnesota school threw out hot meals of students with over $15 lunch debt, then apologized

"We deeply regret our actions today and the embarrassment that it caused," the school district said in a statement.

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By Ben Kesslen

A Minnesota school district is apologizing after video surfaced showing high school cafeteria workers throwing away the hot meals of students with outstanding lunch debt.

Richfield High School came under fire Monday after around 40 students had their hot lunches taken off their trays, thrown out, and replaced with a cold lunch when cafeteria staff saw they had lunch debt of more than $15, NBC Minneapolis affiliate KARE 11 reports.

The incident was recorded on social media, and the school district in Richfield, about seven miles south of Minneapolis, quickly apologized.

"We deeply regret our actions today and the embarrassment that it caused several of our students," the district wrote in a statement Monday. "We have met with some of the students involved and apologized to them."

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Richfield Superintendent Steven Unowsky told KARE the actions of cafeteria staff were "inappropriate."

“There are multiple failures we had in this situation and our job is to fix it. First and foremost [in] the way we treated our kids. We should never leave kids with the feeling they had from the experience,” Unowsky said.

The school said students should not be told publicly in front of their peers that they owe money, and instead should be informed about any lunch debt from a social worker or a guidance counselor.

The school also said a hot lunch should never be taken off a student's tray, even if they have lunch debt.

Richfield High School Principal Latanya Daniels echoed the superintendent's statement.

“One of the things we can do is model failure with grace. We absolutely failed in this situation and our team is working to try and rectify mistakes we made,” Daniels told KARE.

Richfield is represented by Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who introduced a bill with fellow Minnesota Democrat Sen. Tina Smith in June to end school lunch-debt shaming called the "No Shame at School Act."

“Across this country, students whose families are struggling to afford school meals are being singled out and humiliated at lunchtime,” Omar said in a statement at the time. "No child should incur a debt because of their financial constraints beyond their control.”

In October, Omar and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also introduced a bill called the Universal School Meals Program Act, which would provide free breakfast, lunch and dinner to every student in America.

Kurt Chirbas contributed.