Elementary school takes lunches away from students owing account balances

Maybe Ebenezer Scrooge wasn't such a bad guy after all.

A group of up to 40 students at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City had their lunches taken away and then thrown in the trash due to outstanding balances on their accounts, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.

Erica Lukes, a parent of one of the students, told the newspaper, "It's despicable. These are young children that shouldn't be punished or humiliated for something the parents obviously need to clear up."

Lukes' daughter, fifth-grader Sophia Isom, told KSL-TV that a district employee took her lunch away and said, "Go get a milk." Sophia recalled, "I came back and asked, 'What's going on?' Then she handed me an orange. She said, 'You don't have any money in your account, so you can't get lunch.’”

So, what happened? The Salt Lake City district posted an apology and an explanation on Facebook.

A "child nutrition manager" had been sent to the school on Monday to investigate the "large number of students who had zero or negative balances in their school lunch accounts." Officials said they then began calling parents.

From Facebook:

On Tuesday, the calls to parents continued. When lunch time came, students who still had negative balances were told they could not have a full meal but were given a piece of fruit and a milk for lunch. The district does this so children who don’t have money for lunch can at least have some food and not go without.

Unfortunately, children are served lunch before they get to the computer for payment. The children who didn’t have enough money in their accounts had their normal food trays taken from them and were given the fruit and milk.

This situation could have and should have been handled in a different manner. We apologize.

The post on Facebook also goes on to acknowledge that the incident was "an embarrassing and humiliating situation."

The district, according to KSL-TV, contends it did try to warn parents about the outstanding balances. However, Lukes said she was not notified.

"Even if they did try to send the word out, you still don't do that to a child," she told KSL-TV. "You don't take a lunch out of their hands."

UPDATE: The Salt Lake Tribune reports that two Utah lawmakers, Sens. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, and Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, held a news conference at the school on Thursday.

Weiler called the school's actions "bullying" and "an abuse of power," adding, "This person came into a school and used her power to humiliate and embarrass children and I think we ought to draw a line and say that’s not acceptable behavior."

The school district issued another apology, at the news conference. Spokesman Jason Olsen said, "This was a mistake. This was handled wrong." And he added that food shouldn't have been taken from the students "once they went through that line."

Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).