In a classic Dickensian move, Salt Lake City's Uintah Elementary administrators handed out lunches to roughly 40 students whose parents were behind on food payments before taking the meals back and throwing them in the trash.
The event was "traumatic and humiliating," according to parent Erika Lukes, who said she didn't even know she owed the school money. Lukes added, "these are young children that shouldn’t be punished or humiliated for something the parents obviously need to clear up."
According to the Salt Lake City District Spokesperson, Jason Olsen, parents who had fallen behind on payments were notified on Monday, via notes and messages to elementary school students themselves. He said that Uintah officials decided to withhold lunch until more money was put into the school account. The lunch-trashing incident took place on Tuesday, giving parents exactly one day to settle up.
Olsen said that cafeteria workers did not know in advance which lunches to pull, so they handed them all out before students reached a computer to process the payment. The school workers took back lunches from students whose accounts showed a negative balance. And because Uintah policy dictates that food served to one student can't be served to another, the meals were thrown out. The explanation doesn't make the event seem any less humiliating or wasteful.
In the school's defense, Olsen said students whose lunches had been revoked were offered fruit and a milk, explaining "we don't ever let kids go without any food entirely," though he conceded that the issue "could have, and probably should have, been handled in a different manner." He said a review for how parents are notified about low account balances is in order.
Lukes's daughter, fifth-grader Sophia Isom, said she thinks affected students "were just mad, instead of... embarrassed." Which is fair, because fifth-grade kids trying to get lunch are the only people in the story who shouldn't feel any shame.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.