A school district in Pennsylvania has warned parents of the consequences for not paying their student lunch accounts: Their kids could be taken away.
What are the details?
WNEP-TV reported Wyoming Valley West School District recently sent out letters to some 1,000 parents owing balances for their children's lunch accounts, in an effort to collect on the delinquencies. A district representative told the Citizens' Voice the average amount owed is $22.
But roughly 40 parents received a letter threatening that the district would report them to child services over their alleged neglect. The district's director of federal programs, Joseph Muth, wrote:
"Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch. This is a failure to provide your child with proper nutrition and you can be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child's right to food. The result may be your child being taken from your home and placed in foster care."
One administrator explained to WNEP that the letter's purpose was to "put parents on notice that the district intends to collect the lunch money it is owed."
District Solicitor Charles Coslett also defended the foster-care threat to The Voice, saying he was prepared to take legal action against the parents and even cross examine them over whether they spend money on unnecessary things.
But school board vice president David Usavage was appalled by the foster-care threat, saying, "When I first read the letter, the top of my head almost came off."
According to NBC News, Luzerne County Manager David Pedri issued a statement condemning Muth's warning, saying, "Foster care is to be utilized only when absolutely needed — when a child has been abused, is in need or has suffered a tragedy. Our foster care system is NOT to be utilized to scare parents into paying school lunch bills."
Wyoming Valley West School District is scrambling to collect $20,000 in total outstanding school lunch balances before this fall, when all of the district's students begin receiving "free" lunch for the next five years under a federal program, the Dayton Daily News reported.
Following outrage over the foster care threats, the district has backed off and promised to issue apologies to the parents who received threatening letters.