School takes away kids’ lunches because of unpaid bills

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Dozens of children at a Utah elementary school had their lunch trays snatched away from them before they could take a bite this week, according to KSTU.

Salt Lake City School District officials say the trays were taken away at Uintah Elementary School Tuesday because some students had negative balances in the accounts used to pay for lunches. But they admit the situation should have been handled differently.

Instead of regular lunches, the students were given fruit and milk.

The district said it started notifying parents about negative account balances Monday. But Lukes said she and other parents were never told about the problem.

"Even if they did try to send the word out, you still don't do that to a child," she told KSL. "You don't take a lunch out of their hands."

School officials admit they made a mistake.

"This situation could have and should have been handled in a different manner. We apologize," the Salt Lake City School District said on its Facebook page.

Officials are investigating whether guidelines about notifying parents were followed, the district said.

"We understand the feelings of upset parents and students who say this was an embarrassing and humiliating situation," the district said. "We again apologize and commit to working with parents in rectifying this situation and to ensuring students are never treated in this manner again."

Another post on the school district's Facebook page talks about the importance of ending child hunger.

Read more: KSTU


  • Chucky1992

    It is a parent’s responsibility to be sure that their children are able to eat. Wihile I do agree, the school could have handled it better, I also think the parents have no reason to complain. It is ultimately their fault. Once a school notifies the parents (via a verifiable method, certified mail or the like), if a parent fails to catch it up, send their lunch or arrange for the child to be a part of a free lunch program, they should be charged with neglect.

    • Stanthe\man

      The school has admitted that all parents were not notified. Wonder how many kids are already on free breakfast, lunch and dinner? Could have used these meals to feed this group. Another reason to get out of government run schools.

      • ToledoEngineer

        Free or Reduced doesnt change anything. This can still happen.My step sons were on free breakfast and lunch last school year. In Ohio. At one point in the year, we were notified by mail and letter sent home that ONE of the two boys enrolled had an outstanding balance and would NOT receive lunch after such and such date (two weeks away) if the balance was not paid. Yet he was on free lunch. Called school, talked to administrators and was told it would be fixed. Next week, he didnt get lunch. Called to ask why. Told it would be fixed. Still no lunches. HAd to call the Board of Education and PROVE that he was on free lunch (literally siblings are on the EXACT same form). They looked up his brother’s account and found his name listed as well. Someone got chewed out, yet my stepson was refused lunch for who knows how many days. He didnt always tell us when it happened. Likely out of embarrasement.

    • Ted Lundquist

      Our nation demands that children go to school. Not too many generations ago, a child could leave school and go to work to help support their families. In more recent times, some schools released children so that they could pick strawberries to earn money. If a society restricts the economic activity of children, children of marginalized families should be given the economic support they need to comply with the laws. It is not just a parents responsibility to feed children, clothe them, and shelter them when a society creates conditions that are not economically viable for some of its citizens.

  • Melissa B.

    Same thing has been going on for years in Coffee County School System in Douglas, Georgia. I taught pre-k for many years and saw it done quite a bit. I was called in because I dare ask the State Pre-K Counsultant about the practice, that she said was NOT allowable. Thus, the system Food Service Coordinator, my Principal, & the Pre-K Program Coordinator were insulted that I dare to ask about the practice of with-holding meals from pre-children with past-due lunch fees. So much for looking out for the welfare of a four year old child. :(

    • FaithC

      You should have taken the story to the news media, like this one. They love stories like this and the bad publicity makes people change things, if only to save face.

      • Melissa B.

        I got in so much trouble for the act of seeking information, however, I still have the original emails including my initial email, the State Counsultant’s reply, the Principal’s response, as well as the Prgram Director & the Food Service Coordinators. It was awful !

  • FaithC

    Taking the lunch away and tossing it in the trash was just ridiculous. How do you look a hungry child in the face and toss out his or her food? Told too or not, I would not have done it. People need to start thinking for themselves and standing up for what is right. If the whole staff said no, we will not do this to these children, maybe it would have been dealt with in a better way.
    They should have given each child a letter to take home informing the parents to pay up or send the child with a lunch. Call each parent and tell them to please come to a meeting about the issue, let them know the school will have to involve family services if they do not take steps to feed their child. They will pay up.
    Punishing the child for the parents lack of responsibility is just not acceptable.

  • Chi Uha

    Tossing out lunches of school children is outrageous. It’s inhumane and unacceptable in a civilized society. That type of behavior teaches children to become bullies. To bully a child is a crime and the decision makers who authorized this behavior should be punished under penal code.

  • opinonated american

    I have a child in Davidson County school system. She brings her lunch to school. She was denied milk because she had run out of money. I was not notified beforehand. Nor was I notified at all. I sent a note to school asking about this and was told that the county offices would and should have let me know. So… this is not an isolated occurance.

  • R.H. Mayo

    State law says it’s a form of abuse to withhold food from a child regardless of the situation. The school systems DO NOT notify parents until after there’s a negative balance. There’s several ways to communicate to parents before this happens. The parents should have a way to check their child’s balance as well, by phone and internet. It’s not that hard to do,it’s just if those involved want to do it

  • Heather

    This was a disgusting way of handling it. How embarrassing for the children. My child’s school is predominately free and reduced lunch. In NC, there are many many children whose only meals AT ALL are the ones they receive at school. Some people don’t qualify for the free lunch but cant afford the reduced one. It is a flawed system to say the least. And also, to say the parents should be charged with neglect is ridiculous. I often forget to pay on my son’s lunch but I always do (he also never gets a letter home until $17.50 negative in the account). If CPS came to me with neglect allegations I would be outraged. There are far worse things for them to use their valuable time on.

  • Rachel Bowen

    So this isn’t happening in just my child’s school. This is good to know and the whole thing is ridiculous. I tried fighting with the school about it. But to no avail. “We gave a letter to the child to bring home” they said. It’s not the students responsibility to be their mail person. That is what the USDA gets paid for. How about a phone call to the parents. … anything. I about flew of the handle when I heard they took the food or of my son’s hand. Sad thing in my story is. .. my child actually had money with him on this particular day. They tried to take his money as well as food. I told them he shouldn’t be punished for my unpaid bill. … which by the way I can afford. ..I was just unaware! !!

  • Glenna Saavedra

    But go to jail and you will get 3 “FREE” meals a day no questions ask..seriously what are people thinking these are children they do not need to go hungry and have there lunch thrown in the trash in front of other students..Fire who ever was involved in humiliating all those children that day..and we ask why kids hate school i wonder why with this kind of treatment what else is going on behind those closed doors we parents don’t know about? scary thought..

  • AnnArcher

    In this day and age – fault it present on all! Put in your phone a reminder to PAY THE BILL!! Schools should have email reminders sent out – text message, and finally CALL the parent! Geeze – the mentality that “it’s not my job” – until it gets to the media – then it’s all about pointing fingers

    • Helen

      You’re ridiculous. Not everyone in Utah is Mormon. Way to make this issue about something other than what its actually about. But then people will use whatever ammo they can when they’re filled with irrational hate.

  • Your Mom

    So the school’s logic was to throw away the lunches, letting them go entirely to waste, as opposed to letting the children eat them?

    I’m just baffled by this. Only in America would food be thrown away with such disregard to the old adage waste not, want not, or even humanity. Embarrassing not only to the children and their families, but what an embarrassment to the school system that allows such acts of cruelty.

  • Scott

    they need prosecute this pos that is absolutely retarded to take away their lunch and humiliate them then throw it in the trash where did thys save any money by doing this

  • Sheila

    This is reprehensible! NO CHILD should go hungry, period. Any adult who would deny a child food is neglectful. I was a Elementary School Nurse for years. At the school I worked in, if a child didn’t have lunch money he got a bag lunch. To take food from hungry childrens hands is unconscionable! Shame on You people who did that! You have no business being in a school, where children should be nurtured. It never happened on my watch! Children have no control over money, nor should they. This is Salt Lake City, the big Mormon town? What would Jesus do?

  • Pamela Skelton

    I am appalled at the behavior of these schools. The school in Maine where I teach never denies a hungry child. In fact, we have a backpack program that sends food home for the weekend for children in need. Businesses in our community also sponsor a snack program at our school for at risk kids. And this is not an affluent community.

  • Theresa Maria Murray

    The person(s) responsible for doing this to these children needs to be FIRED, not placed on administrative leave but straight up office packed, walked out of the building, NO unemployment fired. To school is hard enough with peer bullies why allow the adult to do the same thing?

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