child at lunch tableOur private tutors in Orange County recently learned of a story concerning a Pennsylvania school district that threatened to have children removed from their homes and placed in foster care because their parents’ had become delinquent in paying for school lunches for their children. Letters were sent out by the Wyoming Valley West School District in July, which stated that approximately $22,476 in lunch money was owed by parents whose children attended school in the district. The correspondence, sent to about 40 parents, is facing intense criticism because part of the letter warned that unless the parents settled their children’s lunch tabs, the minors may be removed from their homes and placed in foster care.

Embarrassment Prevalent Among Board Members

Joseph Muth, Federal Programs Director for the district, expressed embarrassment concerning the letter, as did David Usavage, the board’s vice president. In an interview with ABC News, Muth called the letter “a mistake.” Usavage told WNEP–an ABC Scranton affiliate– that he “cringed” in reaction to the wording of the letter. He told the station that he could not believe the letter said children were in danger of being placed in foster care.

Luzerne County Children and Youth Director, Joanne Van Saun, told ABC that she believed the letter terrorized children and families and that it was simply unnecessary to threaten parents with the removal of their children from their homes.

One of our math tutors in Fountain Valley weighed in on the topic; “As educators, we see under privileged kids in our classes from time to time, and it’s just heart breaking when you know a child is hungry. It’s not uncommon for teachers to go into their own pockets to provide nutritious snacks for their classes, because kids listen and learn much better when they have something in their stomach.”

Attorney Charles Coslett Defends Letter

Charles Coslett–an attorney representing the board, as well as a member–vigorously defended the message in the letter. Coslett told ABC news that the letter simply laid out available options to the district if parents continued to “ignore their parental responsibilities and the nutritional needs of their minor children.” However, by law, students must be fed school lunches regardless of whether or not their parents have paid.

14% of Wyoming Valley West School District Families Below Poverty Line 

According to the Census Reporter, approximately 14% of children in the school district come from families whose income falls below the poverty line. This figure is about 10% higher than the state’s average.

Crystal FitzSimons, director of in-school and after school programs at the Food Research and Action Center, told ABC that she understands it is essential for schools to collect lunch fees, but that it is equally important to contact families who need help but may not realize they are eligible. FitzSimons is a proponent of helping families apply for reduced price or free meals if they are eligible for such benefits.

Approximately 22 million children in school districts nationwide depend on subsidized or free school lunches, which are typically available through the National School Lunch Program.

Program Director Says Letter Should not Have Been Sent

Our private tutors also learned that Joseph Muth was quoted as saying the letter went overboard and should never have been mailed, but that he declined to comment on how and why the letter initially got approved. Muth stated that the district should look for other ways to collect unpaid lunch bills in the future.