A letter mailed to around a thousand parents in the Wyoming Valley West School District in northeastern Pennsylvania has ignited controversy after it appeared to threaten parents that they could lose custody of their children if they didn't pay off their student's lunch debt.
In the text of the letter, school officials said they if parents failed to pay off their child's debt, they could be reported to Dependency Court, where parents could lose their children to foster care under the claim that the parents aren't providing enough food for their children.
"At this time, multiple letters have been sent home with your child and no payments have been made to their account. Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a 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," the letter states. "If you are taken to Dependency Court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care."
The letter goes on to give a website address where parents could check the balance of their child's lunch debt.
"Hopefully that gets their attention and it certainly did didn't it?," Charles Coslett, school district solicitor told Erie News Now. "I mean if you think about it you're here this morning because some parent's crying foul over he or she doesn't want to pay a debt. A debt attributed to feeding their kids. How shameful!"
However, the school board's vice president, David Usavage, said there were other ways the school district could have gone about collecting the deliquent debt.
"When I first read the letter the top of my head almost came off," said David Usavage, school board vice president. "I think there were other avenues that we could have proceeded without making it look like to be perfectly candid and Charlie and Joe can disagree. But everything in that letter--the only thing in that letter that was missing was when are we going to put them in cages and send them to Mexico. And, and I was a little concerned with that. I really was. That was harsh. I thought it was harsh - the letter."
This isn't the first time school districts have gone viral for demanding students pay lunch debts. In May, a Rhode Island school district came under fire after sending a letter home to parents that any child who did not bring money or lunch to school would only be fed a sunflower butter and jelly sandwich. Parents were outraged - especially after learning a local restaurant owner offered the school district a $4,000 donation to pay down some of the outstanding debt.