Pay Your Lunch Money or Face Foster Care?

KINGSTON, Pa. -- Parents in an area school district call a collection letter a bit heavy-handed. About 1,000 students in the Wyoming Valley West School district owe money on their student lunch accounts.

District administrators say efforts to collect the money have been frustrating. The school system fired off warning letters to parents that the district could take them to court, with one possible outcome of the children being placed in foster care.

One Wyoming Valley West school administrator tells Newswatch 16 the purpose of the letter is to, "put parents on notice that the district intends to collect the lunch money it is owed."

Not everyone is taking it that way.

Administrators of the Wyoming Valley West School District in Luzerne County say it is unfair to the parents who pay their kids' lunch money to ignore the debt.

The district sent about 1,000 letters to parents owing money, writing, "You can be sent to dependency court for neglecting your child's right to food. The result may be your child being taken from your home and placed in foster care."

People in the Wyoming Valley West School District seem divided.

"Very extreme, maybe unnecessary, maybe cruel and brutal on the government's part," said Ruth Bates.

"Nobody should go hungry. It might sound like a stiff penalty, but you should take care of your children," Steve Spirko said.

"I think the person that wrote that letter should think about having their children away from him and put into a foster home," Jack Coslett said.

The man who wrote that letter, director of federal programs Joseph Muth, says Wyoming Valley West is owed more than $22,000 by roughly 1,000 students. Four accounts show parents owe more than $450 each.

Muth says this letter was a last resort and that all parents who received it were contracted numerous times, by phone, email, and other letters.

Muth tells Newswatch 16 the school considered serving kids whose accounts were delinquent peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The district's solicitor warned that could be taken to court discriminating against kids who may be of limited means by food-shaming them.

Instead, the school threatened court and potential foster care to focus the consequences on parents.

Wilkes-Barre attorney Bill Vinsko is familiar with government law. Vinsko says the letter is legal despite its threatening tone, adding that it's very unlikely a court would separate kids from their parents for failing to pay lunch money.

"They're sending them to school, they want them to get an education, chances are they're well-nourished at home, they're just unable to afford school lunches at this time," said Vinsko.

Muth says some parents can afford school lunch. Some who cannot afford the school lunch never apply for the help.

Beginning this fall, Wyoming Valley West students will get free meals because the district now qualifies under federal guidelines.

But Muth adds, parents who received warning letters still owe the lunch money and he says they can contact the district to work out payment plans if they cannot pay these bills all at once.

13 comments

  • Mary Brown

    This is the mentality that has developed. I saw reading the article that people actually defended it! There is a mindset that kids shouldn’t be with their crappy poor parents but deserve more well off new homes. But how is that not genocide?

    So thousands are demonstrating for migrant children removed from their parents for traveling under horrible conditions that would have American children shipped to foster care in a New York second. But there are 1/2 million American kids in foster care and MOST are NOT there for abuse. Why is no one demonstrating for them?

  • lickerblisters

    Why now are all these problems occurring within our state? School monies, State Police stealing highway repair funds, turnpikes going to hell, etc.etc.. We always got through in the 70’s and 80’s with no problems. Why is everything such a fn hassle now? Mr. Wolf? 🐺👀

  • peatermoss

    Pay your bills mom (and if there’s a dad around). Little Frankie can’t get fatter at school without you.

  • Jennifer Vonhag

    this is infuriating!! they would never ever be able to take these cases to dependency court and have kids removed from parents!! its insane that anyone is allowed to threaten such things!! removing children is always for serious abuse or neglect–to suggest that an overdue lunch tab will land you in court is obscene!!

  • Mopar Driver (@RustyMopars)

    And yet these are NOT the freeloaders as they don’t have to pay a dime , These are the employed whom have money so did not qualify for free poverty lunches and could’ve made their kids pack a lunch if they weren’t able to afford such, I think the letter is on spot , , Simply pay your kids bills deadbeats .

  • Jesse Cook

    Its disgusting somewhere in this USA (Pennsytucky) that this is even a story. Find the funding by CUTTING pay from the superintendents office!

  • whodathought6789

    For what taxes I pay to the school district breakfast and lunch should be included.

    Instead the school would rather privatize their food programs.

    Taking the lunch program and putting it in private hands now means there is a profit incentive instead of a focus on providing the kids nutritional meals that actually taste good. But hey that school board members friends that own the food service company makes some profit at the expense of the students and employees.

    Another fine example of business getting cozy with the government

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