RICHFIELD, Minn. (CNN) - A Minnesota school district has apologized after about 40 high school students had their hot school lunches taken away and replaced with cold lunches before administrators intervened.
Officials with Richfield Public Schools said in a Facebook post some students at Richfield High School had their lunches taken away Monday because they owed $15 or more on their lunch balance.
The district apologized for the incident, saying while alternate lunch is an existing practice, it was “not implemented in line with our guidelines or our values.”
“The lunch lady that was standing at the computer took the food off their trays with her bare hands and put it in a bowl,” said senior Diamond Johnson, who witnessed the incident while at lunch. “They later threw it away, and then the students had to get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
Johnson says she saw a cafeteria worker throw away more than 10 lunches.
"It was happening right after one another. It was in front of everybody, so the whole thing was embarrassing to the students," she said.
School administrators eventually intervened to stop what was happening.
“We deeply regret our actions... and the embarrassment that it caused several of our students. We have met with some of the students involved and apologized to them,” said the district on Facebook.
In response to the incident, Superintendent Steven Unowsky told KARE that if a student already has a lunch on their tray, they should be allowed to eat it.
“Our nutrition staff inaccurately and inappropriately implemented alternate lunch,” he said. “There are multiple failures we had in this situation, and our job is to fix it. First and foremost, the way we treated our kids. We should never leave kids with the feeling they had from the experience.”
The district says it is owed nearly $20,000 in outstanding lunch balances, which includes a deficit carried over from last year.
Administrators say they are trying to solve the shortfall by raising money in the community. The district has a fund set up for people to help cover unpaid lunch accounts. As of Wednesday evening, it had received more than $3,800.