School district unrepentant after telling parents: Pay up for lunch, or kids may be sent to foster care

While the rude, belligerent and impatient debt collectors who sometimes harass Americans about money owed are a royal pain, at least they don’t have a habit of threatening to rip your children from your care and toss them into a foster home.

Apparently, this habit is only reserved for the unrepentant officials of the Wyoming Valley West School District in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.

These now-notorious officials sent a letter to some parents earlier this month warning them that failure to pay off their children’s school lunch bills could literally cost them their children.

“At this time, multiple letters have been sent home with your child and no payments have been made to their account,” the letter reads. “Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch.”

This is a failure to provide your child with proper nutrition and you can be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child’s right to food. If you are taken to Dependency Court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care.

Around 1,000 local families owe a combined $22,000 in lunch debt. According to school officials who spoke with The Washington Post, only families that owed more than $10 received the letter.

While it’s unclear how the letter went viral, it sparked widespread backlash, to the point that even Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. remarked on it.

“No child should have to imagine the horror of being ripped away from their parents because their family is struggling economically. These letters were callous and should never have happened,” he tweeted Friday, a day after the story broke.

County officials also opined on the matter.

“I found it very disturbing. Upsetting. It’s a total misrepresentation, a gross misrepresentation of what our agency does,” Luzerne County Children and Youth Services executive director Joanne Van Saun said to local station WBRE.

She added that the county has never and would never “remove children from families for unpaid bills.”

In a twist of irony, late Thursday county manager David Pedri sent his own somewhat threatening letter to Wyoming Valley West School District officials.

“This is a gross misrepresentation as to what we do. What you are really doing is weaponizing the good things we are doing in Luzerne County. I’m asking the school district to retract the letter,” he wrote.

He reportedly got his wish.

“Future collection letters will not mention anything about foster care, and the district will send letters apologizing to parents who received letters with the foster-care warning, school board Vice President David Usavage said,” local newspaper The Morning Call reported Friday morning.

But there are a couple of notable caveats.

For one, neither the school district’s federal programs director, Joseph Muth, who was the one who signed the letter, nor the district’s school solicitor, Charles Coslett, who reportedly wrote the letter, seem to think they did anything wrong.

“Hopefully, that gets their attention — certainly did, didn’t it?” Coslett said in a joint interview with WBRE. “I mean, if you think about it, you’re here this morning because some parent’s crying foul over he or she doesn’t want to pay a debt. A debt attributable to feeding their kid. How shameful.

Listen to their stunning interview below:

Muth was slightly less acerbic.

“It might be a bit heavy for some people in interpretation. … 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,” he said.

At least they’re honest …

Second, while the school district plans to adjust its strategy, it reportedly still intends to stick to the whole threatening parents with punitive consequences modus operandi.

“The Wyoming Valley West School District says it will send out a second, softer letter to parents who are delinquent in paying their children’s lunch bills,” WBRE reported. “We’re told parents face legal action from the district, including a complaint in district court and having liens filed against their personal property.”

Not everybody feels bad for the parents, though. Some have echoed Coslett’s sentiment that the parents should be more financially responsible.



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