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Children Face Foster Care Over School Meal Debt, District Warns

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A college district in jap Pennsylvania confronted criticism after sending letters this month to greater than three dozen dad and mom warning that if their debt for varsity meals was not paid, their youngster could possibly be positioned in foster care.

“Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch,” learn the letter, which was signed by Joseph Muth, director of federal packages 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.”

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David Usavage, the vp of the varsity board, mentioned on Saturday that when he first learn the letter, he had thought it was a “joke.”

“It was not approved by anyone,” Mr. Usavage mentioned of the letter. “We have a policy that says everything should go through the superintendent.”

He mentioned the letter was written by Mr. Muth and the district’s lawyer, Charles R. Coslett. Mr. Usavage mentioned Mr. Muth has apologized. Attempts to succeed in Mr. Muth and Mr. Coslett on Saturday had been unsuccessful.

Mr. Usavage mentioned the district, which is in Luzerne County, about 115 miles northwest of Philadelphia, was owed simply over $22,000 in breakfast and lunch debt.

He mentioned that 960 college students had a debt of 5 cents as much as $9.99. The dad and mom of the 40 college students who owe $10 or extra had been despatched the letter, which has acquired widespread consideration.

Mr. Usavage mentioned 4 college students owed greater than $440. School meals within the district value $1 to $2.70.

“We educate kids as best we can with what we have,” he mentioned. “We have a lot of successful kids, but never, never ever have we ever threatened anyone with this kind of letter.”

It’s frequent for the district to mail letters urging dad and mom to pay money owed, however the language has all the time been “softer,” he mentioned.

The district is made up of seven faculties and serves about 5,000 youngsters, Mr. Usavage mentioned. “We have never denied anyone because they don’t have money,” he mentioned. “We would never, ever allow a child to go hungry.”

Mr. Usavage mentioned he acquired about six cellphone calls complaining concerning the letter. C. David Pedri, the county supervisor, wrote the district a letter, noting that foster care ought to by no means be considered as punitive.

“It weaponizes Luzerne County’s foster care system,” Mr. Pedri mentioned on Saturday. “It’s exactly what we’re not here to do. The foster care system is here to help kids who are abused.”

“Taking a kid out of a house is one of the most extreme things that a foster care system has ever tried to do,” he added. “So you don’t do it lightly. We would never take a kid out of a house for failing to pay a school lunch bill.”

Mr. Pedri mentioned the foster care system shouldn’t be utilized to “terrorize” folks into paying their lunch debt. “We’re not the boogey man in the middle of the night coming to take your children out of your house for not paying your school lunch bills.”

While it was unclear what, if something, would possibly occur to Mr. Muth and Mr. Coslett, Mr. Usavage mentioned he wished to name a particular assembly with all college board members to debate the matter. He additionally mentioned within the subsequent college 12 months, beginning in August, that every one youngsters within the district would obtain free breakfast and lunch, no matter their want.

“I don’t want the people who live in the Wyoming Valley West School District to think we are so classless as to send out a letter threatening parents,” he mentioned. “I can assure you we will not take one child or one parent to any kind of court to get back the money.”

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