The Wyoming Valley West School District, one of the poorest districts in the state as measured by per-pupil spending, sent an alarming letter to about 40 families. The letter informed parents that if they don’t settle their children’s lunch debts, their children could be taken away from their homes and placed in foster care.
When officials there noticed that families owed the district around $22,000 in breakfast and lunch debt, they tried to get their money back.
"By mail, email, robo calls, personal calls and letters," said Joseph Mazur, the president of the district's board of education.
But, Mazur said, nothing worked.
That's when district officials sent out the now-infamous letter to about 40 families deemed to be the worst offenders in having overdue cafeteria bills — those were children with a meal debt of $10 or more.
"Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch," said the letter signed by Joseph Muth, director of federal programs for the Wyoming Valley West School District. "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. If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care."
Some county officials criticized the threat of being placed into foster care. They stated that foster-care placement should not be used as a scare tactic to collect money. It should only be mentioned when the children are abused or in danger.
Bill Vinsko, a lawyer in Northeastern, Pa. who used to work in local government, said while the area's weak tax base does put a strain on schools, many households are also struggling to get by on low wage jobs.
"And then they get a letter saying their kids might be taken away from them, it's petrifying for them," Vinsko said. "That is really scary for parents who are trying to work for the best interest of their kids."
What are your thoughts on this one? Do you think the school district have gone too far?
More details of the story on NPR.
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