“It was pretty traumatic and humiliating,” said one of the parents of the 40 kids who had their lunches taken from them after they already received it. The reason why school employees of Uintah Elementary were taking and throwing away the lunches was because the school had not received payment from parents that were in lunch debt.
According to Jason Olsen, a Salt Lake City District spokesman, the child-nutrition department realized some students’ families had outstanding balances on Monday, but the department’s manager wasn’t able to notify the school until after lunch had been served on Tuesday. So the department did what any humane, understanding person would do: they snatched the meals from the children and threw them in the trash.
Olsen said school authorities attempted to contact parents about the debt on Monday and Tuesday morning but failed to reach them all before Tuesday’s lunch period.
“Something’s not working, and that’s what the school and child-nutrition department are going to work on together,” Olsen said. “This can be easily prevented.”
He stopped short of apologizing,though, saying only, “If students were humiliated and upset that’s very unfortunate and not what we wanted to happen.”
Fifth-grader Sophia Isom told KSL TV that the nutrition manager was checking each student’s account as they went through the lunch line. “She took my lunch away and said, ‘Go get a milk,’ ” Sophia said. “I came back and asked, ‘What’s going on?’ Then she handed me an orange. She said, ‘You don’t have any money in your account so you can’t get lunch.’”
The school later issued the following apology via Facebook.
Dear patrons and Uintah Elementary parents,
We have been investigating the lunch situation at Uintah Elementary School and would like to share the following information.
On Monday, a district Child Nutrition manager was sent to Uintah Elementary School to investigate the large number of students who had zero or negative balances in their school lunch accounts. That same day, the district manager and the local school kitchen manager started making calls to inform parents of the negative balances.
On Tuesday, the calls to parents continued. When lunch time came, students who still had negative balances were told they could not have a full meal but were given a piece of fruit and a milk for lunch. The district does this so children who don’t have money for lunch can at least have some food and not go without.
Unfortunately, children are served lunch before they get to the computer for payment. The children who didn’t have enough money in their accounts had their normal food trays taken from them and were given the fruit and milk.
This situation could have and should have been handled in a different manner. We apologize.
We are also investigating what type of notification parents may or may not have received prior to this week. The schools says they inform students when they go through the lunch line if they have a low balance. They say they also send notes home in the student’s Monday folders. However, when contacted Monday or Tuesday, many parents were surprised by the news. The district has specific guidelines for school kitchen managers on how parents should be notified, and we are currently investigating to see if these guidelines were followed correctly.
We understand the feelings of upset parents and students who say this was an embarrassing and humiliating situation. We again apologize and commit to working with parents in rectifying this situation and to ensuring students are never treated in this manner again.