A school district in Utah run by the Mormons is apologizing after a staff member threw away the lunches of students with outstanding cafeteria debts.
Around 40 students’ lunches were seized from children at Uintah Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Tuesday because of “outstanding balances on their accounts,” the Salt Lake City Tribune reported.
The district’s nutrition department said it became aware earlier in the week that the particular school had a large number of students with delinquent lunch accounts. To deal with the issue, the district dispatched the nutrition manager to the school, who decided the best way to handle the issue was to repossess lunches from the students who owed money.
Children who had their lunches seized were later given a piece of fruit and a carton of milk.
“It was pretty traumatic and humiliating,” parent Erica Lukes told the Tribune. “These are young children that shouldn’t be punished or humiliated for something that parents obviously need to clear up.”
The school district agrees, writing in a Facebook note that the situation “could have and should have been handled in a different manner.”
“We understand the feeling of upset parents and students who say this was an embarrassing and humiliating situation,” the district wrote. “We again apologize and commit to working with parents in rectifying the situation and to [ensure] students are never treated in this manner again.”
The district said the school typically notifies parents when a child’s account becomes low or goes into the red, but it acknowledged that some parents were surprised to hear that student accounts were empty. The district said it is reviewing its notification policies.
According to the district’s website, elementary school lunches cost $2 per day.
Like many districts, Salt Lake City schools offer free and reduced-price lunch plans for students whose families receive federal food assistance or whose household incomes fall within federal poverty limits. It is unclear if the 40 students whose lunches were taken away were told by the school district if they qualified for the program.