A Pennsylvania school district sent a letter to parents warning that they could lose custody of their children if they do not pay overdue school lunch bills, The Associated Press reports.
The Wyoming Valley West School District sent letters to about 1,000 parents as it attempts to collect more than $20,000 in overdue lunch payments.
The letter claims that the debts could lead to a dependency hearing and the removal of their children for not providing them with food.
"You can be sent to dependency court for neglecting your child's right to food. The result may be your child being taken from your home and placed in foster care," the letter said.
Child welfare agency demands school district stop ‘false claims’:
Luzerne County's manager and child welfare agency director both called on the superintendent to stop making “false claims,” The AP reported, calling the school district’s letter a misrepresentation of how its foster care system works.
District officials said they would send a less threatening letter next week.
But some believe that the letters were a good move, arguing that threatening to take kids away is a good way to collect minor debts.
"Hopefully, that gets their attention and it certainly did, didn't it? I mean, if you think about it, you're here this morning because some parents cried foul because he or she doesn't want to pay a debt attributed to feeding their kids. How shameful," local attorney Charles Coslett told WYOU-TV.
What happens now?:
Along with “less threatening” letters, officials said they plan to pursue other legal routes to try to collect the lunch debt, like filing complaints in district court or placing liens on properties.
Joseph Muth, the district’s federal programs director, said the district considered serving only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to students who had overdue accounts but received legal advice against the move.
“For the coming year, the district will qualify for funding to provide free lunches to all students,” The AP reported. “The district underwrote free lunches for four elementary and middle schools during the 2018-19 year, and WNEP-TV said school officials suspect some parents did not pay their lunch bills as a form of protest.”