SALT LAKE CITY – Dozens of students were left hungry and confused on Tuesday when officials in a Utah school took their lunches and threw them away.
The incident happened at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City.
Parents were reportedly shocked and angered when they heard that school officials seized lunches from any student with an outstanding balance in their lunch account.
“It was pretty traumatic and humiliating,” said Erica Lukes, whose 11-year-old daughter had her lunch taken from her, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Lukes said as far as she knew, she was all paid up.
“I think it’s despicable,” Lukes told the Salt Lake Tribune. “These are young children that shouldn’t be punished or humiliated for something the parents obviously need to clear up.”
On Monday – the day before the incident – the district’s child nutrition manager visited the school to look into a large number of outstanding balances in student lunch accounts. That same day, the district claims to have started making calls to inform parents of the negative balances.
The calls reportedly continued on Tuesday up until lunch time. If students did not have funds in their account at this time, they were not allowed to receive a full lunch, according to the Tribune.
The district said the problems arose because cafeteria workers weren’t able to see which children owed money until they had already received lunches. Once the students with outstanding balances went to the computer for payment, cafeteria workers took their lunches and threw them in the trash.
As a substitute, children who had their lunches taken were given milk and piece of fruit, reports the story.
One student claimed that the process was so upsetting that it brought a cafeteria worker to tears.
According to the district, they weren’t able to notify all of the parents about the outstanding balances before the child-nutrition manager decided to take away the children’s meal.
Lukes claimed that she was one of the parents who never received a notification that her daughter would have her lunch taken. She went on to describe the situation as a difficult day for her daughter and classmates.
A friend of Lukes’ daughter was so upset that she went home Tuesday night and made lunches for all the students who had theirs taken.
“You would think in a public school system your child wouldn’t be turned away from lunch,” Lukes said in the story, “especially when people usually settle their balances.”
At first, the district reportedly refused to admit the tactic was a mistake, but eventually they came around and apologized through a released statement.
It read: “This situation could have and should have been handled in a different manner. We apologize.”