The Wyoming Valley West School District in Kingston, Pennsylvania sent out hundreds of letters last week threatening parents.
Pay your unpaid lunch debt.
Or your children would be seized by CPS and go into foster care.
“If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child removed from your home and placed into foster care,” the letter threatened.
Wyoming Valley West School District is one of the poorest in the state, per pupil spending, according to NPR.
Still, the letter received by hundreds of parents accused them of sending their children to school with no money or food.
“Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without money and without breakfast and/or lunch,” the letter said, adding failure to provide children with food could result in the parent being sent to Dependency court, which is not open to the public.
Parents received the written threats “by mail, email, robo calls, personal calls and letters,” Joseph Mazur, the president of the school district’s board of education, said.
Some county officials criticized the school district’s threat of punishing parents by placing their children in foster care.
“The foster care system should never be viewed as a punitive agency or weaponized to terrorize children and families,” Luzerne County Manager David Pedri, said.
Pedri has gone on record requesting the district to stop using the language contained in the letter to parents of students.
But he did defend the purpose of the letter to collect debt.
“I think you have to pay your bills. I mean, I’ve been paying my bills all my life. So has everybody else. I mean, sometimes you have to do without something for yourself if you want to raise your kids and see that they’re taken care of,” he said.
Around 1,000 letters in total were sent to parents in the district, according to CNN.
The school district’s cafeteria purchase policy says nothing about parents of students potentially going to court to give up their children if they don’t pay their lunch debts.
It does say, however, parents with $10 or more in debt will receive an automated call every Friday until the debt is paid off.
Director of Federal Programs for the Wyoming Valley West School District Joseph Muth wrote the letter, but claims he wrote the latter as a “last resort” because the district is owed roughly $22,000 in lunch money debt by about 1,000 parents.
On four accounts, parents owe $450 each.
Muth also proposed the idea of serving students who have parents with delinquent accounts peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until their debts were paid off.
Director of Luzerne County Children and Youth Services Joanne Van Saun says she was indirectly brought into the controversy after the school used threats of foster care in their letters to parents.
“To weaponize my agency was just outrageous,” she told WNEP.
“We exist to protect and preserve families. The only time a child is taken out is when they cannot be maintained safely in their home,” she claimed.
“Our agency has helped many children and families with paying rent and buying clothes. We know children do better when they’re with their families.”
“We’re really there to help and not destroy their family,” Van Saun said.
Van Saun sent a letter of her own to the Wyoming Valley West School District‘s superintendent.
“The Luzerne County Children and Youth Foster Care System is NOT utilized to scare families into paying school lunch bills.”
After new reports surfaced the school district now says it will send a softer letter out to parents demanding money from delinquent parents.
That letter will state parents could face legal action from the district, including a complaint in district court.
And having liens filed on their personal property.
The Facebook page for the Wyoming Valley West School District, along with its website, can be visited below.