By Tony Jurgens, House District 54B

We have laws on the books that are designed to prevent students from being lunch-shamed, yet the incidents continue.

In May, we learned about a situation in the metro area where high school seniors were threatened with not being allowed to take part in their graduation event due to unpaid school meal debts.

Shortly after hearing about this, I penned a letter to the commissioner of education asking her to reach out to the Minnesota Attorney General's Office asking for a ruling on whether or not Minnesota's high school seniors could be denied graduation ceremonies because they hadn't paid for school meals.

On May 15, the attorney general issued a binding written opinion that under Minnesota law, "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."

The fact that we continue to hear this lunch shaming news is troubling.

You may recall the story from Stewartville nearly two years ago where students with negative school lunch balances had their meals tossed in the garbage. Since that report, I heard from parents and others from statewide school districts with similar experiences - either the child's lunch was dumped because their lunch account lacked sufficient funding, or they weren't allowed to eat.

This is why I carried legislation last session that would strengthen current lunch shaming laws, and will continue to pursue its passage next year.

Students should not be demeaned or stigmatized because their lunch fund balance is below zero, and they certainly should not be denied the opportunity to participate in graduation ceremonies because of it. As I've said before, schools should be paid for meals they provide, but that transaction should be held between the district and the parents - not kids.

Promoting home ownership

As a member of the Minnesota House Housing Finance and Policy Division, I am working hard on a number of housing topics that will help people in our area find an affordable place to live.

Not long ago I volunteered in the "Red/Blue Build" for the Habitat for Humanity - Republican and Democrat lawmakers volunteering to help build a house for a needy family. If you've never taken part in a Habitat for Humanity project, I strongly urge you to consider it. It is tremendously rewarding. I'll be taking part in some events locally over the next few months and am really looking forward to it.

I was also pleased to receive Housing First Minnesota's 2019 Housing Leadership Award. Housing First Minnesota has a membership of more than 1,200 homebuilding, remodeling and associated industry businesses.

According to the organization, the award recognizes a commitment to a vibrant housing market that ties together the communities of our great state, and my work during the 2019 session that promotes homeownership at a price families can afford. It's an honor to receive this recognition.

Though session has ended, I'd like to remind residents that I am always available to answer your questions or concerns. Please email me any time at rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn, or call my office at 651-296-3135. Talk to you soon!

Editor's note: The headline for this viewpoint was updated July 24, 2019, to better reflect the position of the writer.