P.A. School District Says Parents Must Pay Lunch Debt, Threatens Foster Care

The Wyoming Valley West School District told parents if they didn't clear their lunch debt their children could potentially be placed in foster care.
Published: July 24, 2019

The Wyoming Valley West School District in Pennsylvania sent letters to hundreds of parents who had lunch debt to pay and included a warning that they could be sent to Dependency Court.

Parents who received letters were told there have been “multiple letters sent home with your child” and that no payments had been made, reports CNN.

“Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without breakfast and/or lunch,” the letter read.

It also said failure to provide children with food could result in parents being sent to Dependency Court.

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“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 read.

In the district’s Cafeteria Purchase Charging and Insufficient Funds Policy, there is nothing about parents possibly going to court or giving up their children. It does, however, say if a student’s account reaches negative $10 they will receive “an automated call every Friday until the account” is paid off.

Joseph Muth, the director of federal programs for WVWS, said the letter was a “last resort” since the district is owed over $22,000 by roughly 1,000 students.

By threatening parents with foster care, the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services got brought into the controversy.

“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,” said Joanne Van Saun, who runs the agency. “Our agency has helped many children and families with paying rent and buying clothes. We know children do better when they’re with their families.”

She feels the district used the agency as a weapon to threaten families and that the letter made her staff’s job more difficult.

“The way they handled it was totally inappropriate, unnecessary and could’ve easily been resolved through so many different avenues,” she wrote in a letter to the district. “The Luzerne County Children and Youth Foster Care System is NOT utilized to scare families into paying school lunch bills.”

Other States Face Criticism for ‘Lunch Shaming’

A school district in Rhode Island caused a similar stir in May when it announced students with unpaid lunch balances would receive a sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich until the debt was cleared.

The yogurt company Chobani stepped in and paid off a large portion of the $77,000 debt.

A high school in Minnesota threatened to not let student attend graduation if they had lunch debt.

According to No Kid Hungry, more than 12 million children in the U.S. live in a “food insecure” home, meaning those households don’t have enough food for every family member to lead a healthy life.

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