CEO Says School That Threatened Kids With Foster Care Over Lunch Bills Refused Offer To Pay Debt
July 25th 2019
By Marissa Higgins
Remember the Pennsylvania school district that threatened to send kids to foster careover unpaid school lunch debt? According to the Associated Press, Todd Carmichael, CEO and co-founder of La Colombe Coffee, offered to pay the $22,000 needed to cancel out the school lunch bills. But according to Carmichael, the president of the school board turned down his offer.
Aren Platt, a spokesperson for Carmichael, said that school board president Joseph Mazur rejected the offer, saying that parents can afford to pay the outstanding balance. “The position of Mr. Carmichael is, irrespective of affluence, irrespective of need, he just wants to wipe away this debt,” Platt said.
The Wyoming Valley West School District originally sent letters to parents threateningthem that they “can be sent to dependency court for neglecting your child’s right to food,” with the claim that if they aren’t sending their kids to school with food and also aren’t paying for them to buy food at school, they’re “neglecting” them. Dependency court could lead to kids being sent to foster care.
Aside from this threat being a huge overstep and not remotely ethical, child welfare authorities in the area have confirmed that the foster system does not work that way and that they aren’t backing the threat from the school.
So if the school isn’t taking money from this CEO, but also realizes it can’t threaten parents with the possibility of having their kids snatched from their homes, what’s the plan? In the past, the school considered placing liens on properties, serving the affected kids only peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, and filing complaints in district court.
“I don’t know what my client’s intention is at this point,” Wyoming Valley West’s solicitor, Charles Coslett, said. “That’s the end of the line.”
What motivated the CEO’s incredibly generous offer? He explained himself in a letter he sent to papers in the Wilkes-Barre vicinity: He grew up receiving free meals and knows what it’s like to be a hungry kid. “I know what it means to be hungry,” Carmichael wrote. “I know what it means to feel shame for not being able to afford food.”
Wyoming Valley West will (thankfully) qualify for funding to provide free lunch to all students next year, which should prevent this fiasco from happening again in the district. But the attitude toward school lunch debt needs to change everywhere, because no child deserves to be hungry—or shamed if they are.
Posted with permission