A school sent out 1000 letters saying children may be taken to foster care if parents don't settle their lunch debts.
When your struggling with an unstable income or reeling under financial debts, running a home and taking care of the mouths is never easy. However, no parent would want their kids to starve or be taken away from them because of their unfavorable financial circumstances. Several families in a school district in Pennsylvania were shocked when they received a letter from the Wyoming Valley West School District that stated this was a possibility if their children's lunch debts remain unpaid.
According to CNN, The Wyoming Valley West School District informed parents that their children's lunch debts may result in the kids being sent to foster care. The school district sent about 1,000 letters to parents saying, "Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch."
It further stated, "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."
A school administrator stated that the purpose of the letter was to put parents on notice that the district intends to collect the lunch money it is owed. The school informed that it owned more than $22,000 in food-related debts. Lunch shaming and the inability of families to pay lunch debts are becoming a major problem in the country. This is not the first time, a school has taken actions against unpaid lunch debts. A school in Rhode Island made headlines when they decided to serve children with sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich until their lunch debts were fully paid. Another school in Minnesota tried to prevent students from attending their graduation over lunch debt. However, a threatening letter of this sort is new.
According to WNEP, director of federal programs, Joseph Muth who was identified as the man who wrote the letter said that the school had already tried contacting parents through numerous phone calls, emails, and letters. He added that the new letters were the last resort for the school to retrieve the money. Muth also said that the school had even considered serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to children whose lunch debts were unpaid. However, they decided to go with the potential foster care threat to recover the debts.
The implied threat was not taken well by the parents of the students, though the public seemed divided over the same. "Nobody should go hungry. It might sound like a stiff penalty, but you should take care of your children," said one individual to WNEP, while another said, "Very extreme, maybe unnecessary, maybe cruel and brutal on the government's part."
The school's decision to mention foster care services to get the parents to cough up did not go down well with the local agency associated with the department. Unhappy with how the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services was indirectly dragged into the controversy, the agency's owner Joanne Van Saun, said, "We exist to protect and preserve families. The only time a child is taken out is when they cannot be maintained safely in their home. Our agency has helped many children and families with paying rent and buying clothes. We know children do better when they are with their families."
The agency also made it clear through a letter to the district's Superintendent that they will not be involved in scaring the families. "The Luzerne County Children and Youth Foster Care System is NOT utilized to scare families into paying school lunch bills," wrote Joanne in the letter.
Van Saun added that the agency was blindsided by the letter and called the actions of council inappropriate. "The way they handled it was totally inappropriate, unnecessary and could've easily been resolved through so many different avenues," said Joanne to CNN.
Responding to the public outrage, the school district said that a less menacing letter will soon be to sent to parents again.