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Utah Elementary School Throws Out Kids' Lunches in Front of Them Because of Parents' Debt

Parents call the move, "traumatic and humiliating."
 
 
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A reported 40 kids at the Uintah Elementary School in Salt Lake City Utah picked up their lunches on Tuesday, only to then watch as their meals were taken and thrown away because of outstanding balances on their school accounts.

Jason Olson, a Salt Lake City District spokesman, said that the school district’s child-nutrition department had become aware for some time that Uintah Elementary had a large number of students who had outstanding payments due for the school’s lunch program.

However the school’s cafeteria was unable to see which students owed money to the program until after they had already been given their lunches, meaning that the students had their lunches taken from them after-the-fact, and then thrown away as part of the program’s rule that once food has been served to one student, it can’t be served to another.

“It was pretty traumatic and humiliating,” Erica Lukes told the Salt Lake Tribune. Her 11-year-old daughter stood in line and had her lunch taken away in the middle of the cafeteria.

According to Lukes, she had never been notified of any outstanding payments for her school lunch program, and was, to her knowledge, fully paid up. Her child—one of the reported 40 children—was given just milk and fruit after having her lunch thrown in the trash.

“I think it’s despicable,” she said to the Christian Science Monitor. “These are young children that shouldn’t be punished or humiliated for something the parents obviously need to clear up.” 

According to Jason Olson, a Salt Lake City District spokesman, school officials said that their staff members typically send home notifications each week, and also notify students about any balances as they go through the lunch line.

While the district attempted to contact parents regarding outstanding balances by phone, Olson said that they were not able to reach them before the child-nutrition manager enacted the take-and-toss rule.

“Something’s not working, and that’s what the school and child-nutrition department are going to work on together,” Olsen said regarding the timetable of payment notifications.

However, when pressed, Olsen refused to consider the tactic of taking their lunches as payment leverage a mistake.

“If students were humiliated and upset, that’s very unfortunate and not what we waned to happen,” he said.

In an updated statement since the blowback reached fever pitch, Olsen spoke on behalf of the child nutrition organization’s ethos, stating that they “understand the feels of upset parents and students who say this was an embarrassing and humiliating situation. We again apologize and commit to working with parents in rectifying this situation and to ensuring students are never treated in this manner again.

According to Olsen, there are no plans at this time to enact the same tactic at other schools in the district.

Rod Bastanmehr is a freelance writer in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @rodb.

 
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