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Denying school lunch subsidies to immigrant children is discrimination, Italian court rules

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Denying school lunch subsidies to immigrant children is discrimination, Italian court rules
Lunch at an elementary school in Rome. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
13:54 CET+01:00
A judge has ordered the northern Italian city of Lodi to scrap new rules that made it harder for the children of foreign parents to qualify for subsidised school meals.

The court of Milan on Thursday ruled that requiring parents from outside the EU to provide proof of their assets both in Italy and their birth countries in order to get help paying for the school canteen and other services constituted "direct discrimination".

Instead, the judge said, non-European families should be able to access subsidies on the same terms as Italian or EU citizens – i.e., by demonstrating their income in Italy alone.

"It's a victory for legality and good sense," commented Alberto Guariso and Livio Neri, two lawyers who mounted the legal challenge on behalf of child protection associations and charities.

READ ALSO: Donors step in after Italian city denies school lunch subsidies to children of immigrants


Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP

The requirements, which Lodi's right-wing mayor introduced at the start of the school year, were widely criticised for effectively excluding immigrant children. Many people pointed out that expecting people to obtain official documents from distant countries – countries that in the cases of refugees are at war or in crisis – then to get them translated and notarised by the Italian consulate there was unrealistic.

Parents who couldn't produce the documentation saw the cost of sending their children to school triple. They were automatically charged the highest rate for school lunches, working out at around €5 per meal rather than the lower subsidised rate that is standard for Italian children, while kids who opted to take a packed lunch instead were forced to eat separately from their classmates.

The same rules applied to creches and school buses, which ended up costing some foreign parents €210 per quarter.

Their plight came to national attention via a widely watched report on TV show Piazza Pulita, which spoke movingly to some of the children affected.

A crowdfunding appeal raised more than €60,000 within 48 hours, covering the costs of nearly 300 children to continue accessing school services while associations prepared to take the case to court.

In his ruling, Judge Nicola Di Plotti criticised the "discriminatory conduct" of Lodi's city council, led by Mayor Sara Casanova of the anti-immigration League party.

The council's actions attracted criticism from the ministry of education, Italy's child welfare authority and several members of parliament. Even the head of Casanova's party, Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, qualified his support for her policy by saying that Lodi's council should accept immigrant families' declarations of means "on good faith" alone.

The city council is currently deciding whether to appeal the court's ruling against, according to La Repubblica. Its decision is expected in the coming days.

Meanwhile another northern Italian council enacted similar measures without challenge: the region of Veneto now requires non-EU parents to certify their assets abroad in order to qualify for a discount on schoolbooks.

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