Utah School Grabs Lunches from Children in Debt
Students in Utah who rely on a school lunch program to feed themselves were humiliated in front of their classmates when an official ordered their meals taken away and thrown in the garbage because their parents purportedly owed the school money.
The incident involved about 40 children at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City.
Erica Lukes, whose 11-year-old daughter was one of the kids who had her lunch snatched away, called the event “pretty traumatic and humiliating.”
“I think it’s despicable,” she told The Salt Lake Tribune. “These are young children that shouldn’t be punished or humiliated for something the parents obviously need to clear up.” Lukes disputed the notion that her account was in arrears.
“She took my lunch away and said, ‘Go get a milk,’” fifth-grader Sophia Isom, interviewed by KSL.com, said of a school employee. “I…asked, ‘What's going on?’ Then she handed me an orange. She said, ‘You don't have any money in your account so you can't get lunch.’”
A child-nutrition manager was reportedly behind the decision to seize the lunches, in an effort to do something about parents who had not paid the balances for their children’s lunches.
Cafeteria workers gave the children who lost their lunches milk and fruit.
Parents were outraged by the action, as were Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature.
Republican Senator Todd Weiler said the district made a “grievous mistake.”
“To me, this rises to the level of bullying,” he told the Associated Press (AP). “These children were humiliated in their own school, in front of their classmates.” Weiler called for the firing of the cafeteria manager, according to the Tribune.
Indeed, the manager was placed on administrative leave, and more school employees may follow.
The entire incident was a mistake, said Salt Lake City School District spokesman Jason Olsen. He told AP that an investigation is now underway.
Democratic Senator Jim Dabakis said the incident demonstrated that policymakers need to do more to address school funding issues. “We just plain need more money to feed our school children,” he told the AP. “There should not be a hungry child in this state.”
To Learn More:
Lunches Seized from Kids in Debt at Salt Lake City Elementary (by Lisa Schenker, Salt Lake Tribune)
District Apologizes after Taking Student Lunches (Associated Press)
Report Says Schools Are Stealing Meal Money from Poor Kids (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)
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