KINGSTON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — There’s controversy and outrage in a Luzerne County school district regarding its tactics to collect delinquent lunch bills.
The Wyoming Valley West School District sent letters to parents who are behind on lunch payments for their children. It says they could face serious legal consequences, including having their children taken away and placed in foster care if they don’t pay up.
The I-Team received dozens of calls and emails from parents who fear their children were being taken away. They did not want to appear on camera. District administrators say they just wanted to get the attention of parents who don’t pay the bills for their children’s lunches. The district’s trying to collect some $20,000 in unpaid lunch bills.
A one-page letter sent to about 1,000 parents in the Wyoming Valley West School District is at the center of an intense debate and growing controversy.
When asked if the letter was heavy-handed or threatening, district solicitor Charles Coslett replied: “I wouldn’t say it’s threatening.”
So says Coslett. The letter informs the parents that the unpaid lunch bills can result in them being taken to dependency court and their child being removed from their home and placed into foster care for basically not providing food for their child but Coslett insists it is only one of the options open to the district.
“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!” Coslett said.
“It might be a bit heavy for some people in interpretation,” Joseph Muth, the district’s director of federal programs said.
Muth signed the letter. He’s in charge of federal programs for the district, which includes lunch funding.
“But to the point, the school district wants to take their kids away from them. No one wants to take their kids away from them but we were not getting any responses.” Muth said.
“When I first read the letter the top of my head almost came off!” school board vice president David Usavage said.
Usavage is vice-president of the Valley West School Board. While he sat at the table for our interview, other school board members sat a few feet away in agreeance with him.
“I think there were other avenues that we could have proceeded without making it look like to be perfectly candid and Charles and Joe can disagree in that letter–the only thing in that letter that was missing was when are we going to put them in cages and send them to Mexico. I was a little concerned with that. I thought it was harsh,” Usavage said.
Usavage says that another letter, a much more softer non-threatening letter will be sent to parents next week. Luzerne County officials are also angry about the letter.
School district officials point out that they will still look into other legal options to collect overdue lunch bills including filing complaints with a district judge and filing liens on the properties of parents.