School district threatens parents over unpaid lunch bills

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KINGSTON, Pa. (WBRE/WYOU) — There are 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. The letter says parents could face serious legal consequences, including having their children taken away and placed in foster care if they don’t pay up.

WBRE/WYOU received dozens of calls and emails from parents who feared their children would be taken away. The parents did not want to appear on camera.

School administrators said they wanted to get the attention of parents who don’t pay lunch bills. The district is trying to collect about $20,000 in unpaid lunches.

The one-page letter sent to about 1,000 parents in the 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.”

The letter states that unpaid lunch bills could result in parents 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.

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,” said Joseph Muth, the district’s director of federal programs. “No one wants to take their kids away from them, but we were not getting any responses.”

“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 school board. While he sat at a table for our interview, other school board members sat a few feet away in agreeance with him.

“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 another, non-threatening letter will be sent to parents next week.

Luzerne County officials are also angry about the letter.

School district officials said they will continue looking into other legal options to collect overdue lunch bills, including filing complaints with a district judge and filing liens on properties.

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