US school ‘sorry’ for foster care threat over lunch debt

School meals

A Pennsylvania school that warned parents to pay outstanding lunch fees or risk their children going into foster care has apologised and accepted a donation to cover the debt.

Wyoming Valley West School District had initially turned down the offer by a local businessman to pay off the $22,000 (£17,500) debt.

On Wednesday, the school said it had not intended to “harm” its families.

Earlier this week Bernie Sanders called for an end to “school lunch debt”.

The senator, and one of the Democrat candidates for president, tweeted that it “should not exist in the wealthiest country in the history of the world” and pledged to “provide year-round, free universal school meals” if he won the White House.

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Bernie Sanders has pledged to end the debt

Wyoming Valley West school had initially sent about 1,000 letters to families who still owed money for their children’s school lunches. Some of the individual debts stood at $400, the school said.

It warned that the parents could be taken to Dependency Court as a result of failing to send their child to school without either money or food.

“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.

The letter provoked anger but also a surge in offers of donations – including one from Todd Carmichael, the CEO of La Colombe Coffee, who offered to pay off the whole debt.

It is unclear why the school initially rejected the offer, but it had changed its mind by Wednesday.

“The Wyoming Valley West School District Board of Directors sincerely apologises for the tone of the letter that was sent regarding lunch debt. It wasn’t the intention of the district to harm or inconvenience any of the families of our school district,” the school said in an “apology letter” on its website.

We want to thank everyone for their concern and generous donation offers to help pay for the unpaid lunch bills… we have decided to accept Mr Carmichael’s generous donation. It will be directed to the Wyoming Valley West Educational Foundation to eliminate the debt owed by the parents.”

It is not clear how big a problem school lunch debt is in the US, but the issue has made headlines in recent weeks.

Some schools have been refusing to serve children meals, or offering them snacks instead, if they can’t make their lunch payments regularly.

A school district in Rhode Island reversed a policy which would have limited pupils who owed lunch money to a meal of a jam and peanut butter sandwich, according to the Guardian.