More than 2,000 people donated to the fundraiser, which was born after the mayor of Lodi introduced a resolution last month requiring parents from outside the EU to provide proof of their assets both in Italy and in their home countries.
Those who do not are automatically charged the highest rate for meals in the school canteen, around €5 per meal rather than the lower subsidised rate that is standard for Italian children – and kids who opt to take a packed lunch instead are obliged to eat separately from the rest of their classmates.
The same policy also excludes children from using school buses, which now cost many foreign parents €210 per quarter.
Between 200 and 300 children are thought to be affected by the resolution, the brainchild of Mayor Sara Casanova of the League party.
The policy has drawn fierce criticism from those who say it unfairly punishes children, especially in cases when their parents fled their home countries without taking anything with them, or are unable to obtain documents from nations in crisis or under hostile regimes.
Education Minister Marco Bussetti warned that “Children should never be exploited” and called on Lodi's council to find an alternative solution.
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The head of Italy's child welfare authority said excluding children from the canteen was a breach of their human rights, and called for them to be readmitted immediately. “It's unthinkable to force young children to eat alone, cut off from their classmates, because their parents cannot pay,” Filomena Albano told Repubblica.
Child protection associations plan to challenge the policy in court, arguing that it contravenes Italian and EU human rights law.
In the meantime they have paused their appeal for donations, saying that the money already raised will cover children's lunch and bus fees until at least the end of the year. They are also encouraging supporters to write to Mayor Casanova in protest, as well as calling a demonstration outside Lodi's city hall on October 16th.
Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio added his voice to the critics' on Sunday, writing on social media: “If certain parents don't follow the rules, you punish them, not their children: this state will always be on children's side.”
Yet his fellow deputy PM, Matteo Salvini – who is head of the anti-immigration League – has defended his party member's policy, declaring that “some who could pay think they don't have to is an insult to parents Italian and foreign alike, who pay what they should”.
However, revising his position on Monday he stated that Lodi's council should accept immigrant families' declarations of means “on good faith” if they are unable to produce the necessary documents.
Meanwhile another northern council has already enacted a similar measure: the region of Veneto now requires non-EU parents to certify their assets abroad in order to qualify for the usual discount on schoolbooks.
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP