In Pennsylvania, a school district has issued a warning to parents that if they have an overdue school lunch bill their children could end up in foster care.
The Wyoming Valley West School district sent out letters this week to an estimated 1,000 parents. The letters have received major backlash from parents as well as a rebuke from the Luzerne County child welfare authorities.
According to a spokesperson for the school district, it is attempting to collect over $20,000 in past-due lunch bills. The spokesperson adds that other methods that it has attempted to get parents to pay their outstanding bills have been unsuccessful. Reportedly four parents owe as much as $450 apiece.
The letter sent out by the school district claims the unpaid bills could lead to dependency hearings and removal of their children for the parent’s failure to provide the children with proper nutrition.
“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,” the letter reads.
After hundreds of complaints the school district says that it will send out another letter next week and be more cautious with its wording.
The child welfare agency director has contacted the superintendent of schools advising them to halt making false claims. The letter goes on to call the school district’s actions “troubling and misrepresentation of how the Children and Youth Services Department and its foster care program operate.”
Charles Coslett, a Wyoming Valley West’s lawyer, stated that he in no way so the school’s letter as threatening.
“Hopefully, that gets their attention and it certainly did, didn’t it? I mean, if you think about it, you’re here this morning because some parents cried foul because he or she doesn’t want to pay a debt attributed to feeding their kids. How shameful,” Coslett told WYOU-TV.
The district’s federal programs director, Joseph Muth, stated that the school district has considered serving children with past due bills peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until their bills are paid in full, but that did not happen after the school district received a legal notice about it.
School district officials now say that they are looking into other ways to get the money owed including filing court complaints and placing liens on properties.
The district will qualify for funding to provide free lunches later this year.