A cafeteria manager has been put on paid administrative leave following an incident that saw up to 40 students with unpaid school meal tabs having their lunches seized and thrown away.
Salt Lake City School District officials investigating the seizure warn that more employees could be put on leave.
Officials originally said the decision to trash the lunches was made by a district-level “child nutrition manager,” but now say that the investigation could implicate people higher up on the chain of command.
The seizure, which occurred Tuesday at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City, prompted cries of outrage from parents, local and state politicians and social media, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Utah state Sens. Jim Dabakis, a Democrat, and Todd Weiler, a Republican, held a press conference outside the school Thursday before joining the students for lunch.
Weiler condemned the decision to take lunches from students, calling it “bullying.”
“To me this rises to the level of bullying. Children were humiliated,” Weiler said, adding that someone must be held accountable.
“I think it’s an abuse of power,” he added. “This person came into a school and used her power to humiliate and embarrass children and I think we ought to draw a line and say that’s not acceptable behavior.”
The seizures occurred out in the open as other students watched.
“The kitchen managers are aghast every time they have to do that,” former district lunch worker Pam Gomez told the Tribune, adding that seizures are routine but generally happen on a much smaller scale. “You have children crying. You know they get embarrassed because it happens in front of everybody.”
“It’s sad for those kids, but at least now the policy is out in the open,” she added.
After the lunches were taken away, the students with unpaid meal tabs were given some milk and fruit.
District Superintendent McKell Withers assured local media that “termination is on the table” for the incident, adding that he’s “incredibly disappointed” in the employees who reportedly took the lunches out of students’ hands.
The district has apologized and will continue to investigate whether policies regarding school lunches and payment need to be changed, district spokesman Jason Olsen said.
He added that Utah school officials have actually received threats since the seizure was first reported earlier this week.
“I don’t know how many or the nature of the threats,” he said.
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Featured image screengrab via CNN. This post has been updated.