District Does U-Turn on Offer to Pay Lunch Debt

School board apologizes for foster care threat
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 25, 2019 3:18 AM CDT
District Does U-Turn on Offer to Pay Lunch Debt
Todd Carmichael, chief executive and co-founder of Philadelphia-based La Colombe Coffee, speaks to the media in Philadelphia.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

In a move possibly related to widespread criticism and media coverage, a school district in Pennsylvania has done a U-turn on a CEO's offer to erase $22,467.76 in school-lunch debt. The Wyoming Valley West School District now says it will accept La Colombe Coffee CEO Todd Carmichael's offer, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The district says it has also written to parents to apologize for "the tone" of a letter warning that children with unpaid lunch debts could end up in foster care. State Rep. Aaron Kaufer tells NPR that he visited the district Wednesday and there appears to have been some infighting among board members about accepting offers to pay the debt, which may have led to offers from Carmichael and others being ignored.

"Nobody likes to see this kind of black-eye story in their area, but I want to see this issue resolved," says Kaufer, whose constituency includes the district. "This is not why we want to see northeastern Pennsylvania in the news." A spokeswoman for Carmichael says that after the businessman—who accused the district of "lunch shaming"—reached out to the school board, he was told by school board president Joseph Mazur that it was the families' responsibility to pay. In the letter to families Wednesday, Mazur denied that any "shaming" had occurred and said students who didn't pay still received regular lunches. Lunch debt apparently won't be an issue next year: Officials say the poverty level in the former coal-mining district is now so high that federal assistance will cover meals for all students. (Read more school lunch stories.)

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