A Pennsylvania school district that threatened to have children placed in foster care if their parents failed to pay overdue school lunch tabs has rejected an offer by a local CEO to cover the entire bill, the businessman said Tuesday.
Todd Carmichael, chief executive and co-founder of Philadelphia-based La Colombe Coffee, said on Monday he offered to give Wyoming Valley West School District over $22,000 to wipe out students’ massive lunch debt, which led to the warning letter to parents earlier this month.
More than 14% of people living within the school district are below the poverty line, about 10% higher than the overall number across the state of Pennsylvania, according to the latest data from the United States Census Bureau.
“We’re shaming people who are struggling, and that’s immoral and that’s just wrong,” Carmichael said in an interview with ABC Philadelphia station WPVI on Tuesday night.
“I know what it means to be hungry,” Carmichael wrote in a letter sent to papers in the Wilkes-Barre area on Monday said he used to receive a free meal as a child growing up near Spokane, Washington. “I know what it means to feel shame for not being able to afford food.
But the school board President Joseph Mazur, refused the offer during a phone conversation Monday, arguing that the lunch is owed by parents who can afford to pay.
In his letter to local newspapers, Carmichael said his offer stands and urged the school board president to reconsider.
“By saying no, you are not just shaming families who elected you, but you are placing this burden on [Wyoming Valley West] taxpayers, and that is completely unfair,” he wrote.
Carmichael claimed he is going to be optimistic and see if he can’t do something. “Even if you’re a difficult person, we’re in. What can we do?”
Last week, Joseph Muth told ABC the letter was sent to dozens of parents, saying that the district was owed around $22,476 in lunch money. However, Muth called the letter a mistake and suggested the district would explore other options to get repaid.
Child welfare authorities have told the district that Luzerne County does not run its foster system that way.
Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania tweeted on July 19, saying “these letters were callous and should never have happened.”
Moving forward, the School District has an obligation to find an appropriate way to collect these funds, instead of using threats
— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) July 19, 2019
School district officials have said they planned to file a district court complaint or placing liens on properties, i.e. to get the lunch money.
In the coming school year, Wyoming Valley West will qualify for funding to provide free lunches to all students, ABC reported.