After facing substantial backlash, a Pennsylvania school district is walking back its threat to potentially have children separated from their parents and placed in foster care over unpaid lunch fees.
Instead, Wyoming Valley West School District has decided to finally accept the offer of local La Colombe Coffee Roasters CEO Todd Carmichael to pay off the $22,000 in student lunch debt, according to an open letter signed by district president Joseph A. Mazur.
“The Wyoming Valley West School District Board of Directors sincerely apologizes for the tone of the letter that was sent regarding lunch debt,” Mazur wrote on behalf of the board. “It wasn’t the intention of the district to harm or inconvenience any of the families of our school district.”
That July 9 letter, which prompted national outrage, was sent to parents of children with outstanding lunch bills, demanding that the bills be paid quickly and threatening to send families to Dependency Court.
“Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without 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,” school board officials wrote, according to NBC.
“Please remit payment as soon as possible to avoid being reported to the proper authorities,” the letter read, going on to indicate that court proceedings could see children “placed in foster care.”
The threatening letter generated a firestorm almost overnight, with social media users vexed nationwide.
“So, a school district in Pennsylvania told parents that if their kids school lunch debt isn’t paid, they’ll place their kids in foster care. (Impossible btw),” one woman wrote on Twitter.
So, a school district in Pennsylvania told parents that if their kids school lunch debt isn’t paid, they’ll place their kids in foster care. (Impossible btw).
But a businessman offered to pay the $22,000 to wipe out all of the debt and the school district won’t let him.
— got y’all in a Tiz-Zee 🤪 (@MaybeZeee) July 24, 2019
She went on to call the decision “WICKED” in a follow-up tweet.
“To those responsible for the letters sent out on behalf of the Wyoming Valley West School District in PA: You should be ashamed of yourselves. I was born in Allentown and I’m going to see to it that those lunch bills get paid before you try and put kids into foster care,” another user wrote. “Sheesh.”
To those responsible for the letters sent out on behalf of the Wyoming Valley West School District in PA: You should be ashamed of yourselves. I was born in Allentown and I’m going to see to it that those lunch bills get paid before you try and put kids into foster care. Sheesh
— Jonathan Coleman (@jonacoles) July 20, 2019
Apparently the idea of the public school system separating children from their families over school lunches didn’t sit well with many people.
WBRE reported that social media users were not the only ones wildly upset with the letter.
Several county officials told the outlet they were stunned by the contents of the threat and wanted it immediately retracted and followed by a serious apology.
“I found it very disturbing. Upsetting,” Luzerne County Children and Youth Sevices executive director Joanne Van Saun said. “It’s a total misrepresentation, a gross misrepresentation of what our agency does.
“It’s just not true. We do not remove children from families for unpaid bills,” she added.
And things only grew worse before finally being settled, as NBC later reported the district had initially turned down Carimichael’s donation, opting to follow through on its threats.
“On Monday, we talked to School Board President Joseph Mazur to determine the best way to transfer the funds in order to wipe the slate clean and restore dignity to the 1,000 families who received these threatening letters,” Carmichael wrote in a letter obtained by NBC.
“Shockingly, Mr. Mazur turned us down,” he continued. “I can’t explain or justify his actions. Let me be clear: we offered over $22,000 with no strings attached.
“And he said ‘NO.'”
When the public shaming finally prompted the school board to change its mind and issue an apology letter, it also decided it would be applying to be a part of the Community Eligibility Program, which provides elementary and secondary education students with free school lunches for families in need.
“All students of the Wyoming Valley West School District will receive free breakfast and lunch in all of our schools for the next five years regardless of income. No student was ever denied a meal for lack of payment,” Mazur announced.
Perhaps the district should have considered that solution before the board threatened to have American children removed from their families over school lunch debts.
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