A spokesperson for Salt Lake City School District says Uintah Elementary School made a mistake by taking away the lunches of students who owed money. Now state lawmakers say they want to get to the bottom of it.
District Spokesman Jason Olsen says on Tuesday cafeteria workers at Uintah Elementary School threw away the lunches of about 32 students whose lunch accounts were in the negative. Those students were instead given a partial lunch of fruit and milk.
“The way it was handled was wrong,” Olsen says. “It was a mistake. That tray should not have been taken away from that student. There should have been some way to work with them, work with the families, to make sure that the students still got the lunch that they had just been served.”
Olsen says on Monday, the school contacted the parents of between 50 and 60 students who were delinquent, but come Tuesday, most of those parents had still not paid up.
Olsen says he doesn’t know who directed employees to toss the trays. But he says the district is conducting an investigation to find out and to make sure this never happens again.
“A lot of these parents had no idea about the low balances and it came as a surprise to them,” Olsen says. “So what type of notification is happening? And it’s obviously not working, so what can we do to improve that.”
State education officials say lunch money policies vary from district to district and are not governed by the state board, but delinquent payments is an issue that many districts face.
Republican Senator Todd Weiler joined Democratic Senator Jim Dabakis for lunch at Uintah Elementary on Thursday to draw attention to the issue.
“More than anything we just want to draw attention to an egregious problem in this situation where an administrator felt justified in humiliating and what I would call bullying children in front of their peers,” Weiler says.
Weiler says he hopes there isn’t a systematic problem, but he and others in the state legislature intend to find out.