As a parent, struggling to put food on the table is one of the hardest things to experience. We do everything we can to provide for our families. But poverty and financial struggle is a vicious cycle, and getting ahead of the game can feel impossible. There are some things that need to be paid - rent or mortgage, electric and gas bills, health insurance. And sometimes, once all is said and done, other things slip through the cracks.
We've heard quite a few stories of kids and parents being threatened over unpaid school lunch debt, but this latest story is one of the most disturbing we've heard yet. One thing we wish people would learn and practice: it's not OK to threaten people over nominal debts, and lending a helping hand goes so much further than holding someone down.
A school district in Pennsylvania is under fire after they sent parents with unpaid lunch debt letters which threatened them with the risk of their children being placed in foster care. All over debts with a balance of $75.25. This is so far beyond acceptable, we don't even know where to begin.
Parents with unpaid school lunch debt in the Wyoming Valley West School District received a letter, informing them that if they had an unpaid lunch debt of $75.25 or more, they could be reported to dependency court. The letter states that having an unpaid punch debt amounts to failure to provide their child with food or proper nutrition, and that the parents were at risk of being reported for neglecting their child's right to food.
Should a parent be taken to dependency court, as the school district is threatening, they are at risk for having their children removed from the home and placed in foster care. The letter then goes on to demand payment for the unpaid debt in order to avoid being reported to authorities.
Needless to say, parents in the school district are absolutely aghast that a letter like this would be sent out. Threatening to uproot a child's life and completely disrupt their home and family over a lunch debt is beyond the pale. What would the response have been if the district had to reached out with a softer approach, perhaps inquiring about ways the family could use support or recommending social services that may be able to help?
Not to mention, the letter has drawn the wrath of Luzerne County Children and Youth Services. Executive Director Joanne Van Saun called the letter disturbing, and reiterated that the agency does not remove children from their parents and homes over unpaid lunch debt.
The school district did not comment on the letter, except to say that it will send out a second, softer letter to parents in an attempt to recoup the unpaid lunch debt.