Pennsylvania School District That Threatened Foster Care For Kids With Lunch Debt Finally Accepts Philadelphia CEO's Offer
The CEO of a Philadelphia-based coffee shop offered to pay off the debt, but the school board president wants the parents to pay.
July 24, 2019 at 4:01 pm
Update (July 26, 2019): After becoming the ire of many, the Wyoming Valley West School District issued an apology on Thursday. The district previously threatened foster care to parents with school lunch debt and subsequently accepted La Colombe CEO’s Todd Carmichael’s proposal to cover the more than $22,000 deficit.
“The Wyoming Valley West School District Board of Directors sincerely apologizes for the tone of the letter that was sent regarding lunch debt,” a portion of the letter posted online reads. “It wasn’t the intention of the district to harm or inconvenience any of the families of our school district.”
Regarding Carmichael’s offer, Wyoming Valley West School Board President Joseph Mazur had this to say: “After discussions with [Wyoming Valley West Educational Foundation President Michael] Plaksin and all members of the Wyoming Valley West School Board, we have decided to accept Mr.Carmichael’s generous donation. It will be directed to the Wyoming Valley West Educational Foundation to eliminate the debt owed by the parents.”
Even though his successful company is Pennsylvania-based, Carmichael asserts he was inspired to help because as a child, he received free lunch. Per Heavy, the 55-year-old said he understands “what it means to be hungry.” Not just an advocate for comped meals, Carmichael also champions a $15 an hour minimum wage requirement.
“Unless you pay your employees a nonpredatory living wage that keeps people and their families above the poverty line, you don’t deserve to be in business,” he said in 2017.
Original story: A Pennsylvania school district is drawing considerable backlash after roughly 1,000 letters were sent home threatening to put children in foster care if parents failed to pay overdue lunch bills.
According to CNN, a portion of the letter from the Wyoming Valley West School District reads: "Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch."
"If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care."
Per the news site, Wyoming Valley's Cafeteria Purchase Charging and Insufficient Funds Policy does not include a clause about parents making a court appearance or relinquishing custody of their children for lunch debt. However, it does indicate that households with a negative $10 balance are subject to "an automated call every Friday until the account" is in the positive.
Joseph Muth, the director of federal programs for the school district and the author behind the letter, justified the document by saying it was a "last resort" as the district is owed $22,000 in school lunch debt, with some students accumulating a negative balance of $450.
After outcry ensued, the county manager of Luzerne County, where Wyoming Valley resides, confirmed to CNN they wouldn't actually follow through with their threat.
"Nobody's coming to take your kids in the middle of the night," David Pedri said Monday, adding "Luzerne County foster care will never take a kid for not paying school debt."
In an effort to help subsidize the debt, Todd Carmichael, co-founder and CEO of Philadelphia-based La Colombe Coffee, offered to donate the $22,000 needed to offset the deficit, per his representative Aren Platt. However, CBS News reported Tuesday that school board president Joseph Mazur told Platt he is refusing Carmichael's proposition because the parents can pay for the fines, they just choose not to.
"I said, irrespective of ability to pay we want to cover it," Platt recalled. "He said no and hung up."
Should the school district decide to reconsider his offer, Carmichael says he will gladly cover the costs.
Thankfully, this won't be a problem come fall. According to WNEP, Wyoming Valley West students will receive comped meals because the district now meets federal regulations.