Pennsylvania businessman offers to pay off school lunch debts for families threatened by district, gets turned away

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An eastern Pennsylvania community has been up in arms this month after an aggressively worded letter was sent to parents, threatening to send their children to foster care if they didn’t pay the few dollars they owed for school meals. Now it’s been reported that the efforts of a local businessman have been denied after he reportedly offered to pay off those debts.

According to the NY Times, Saturday, when David Usavage, the vice president of the school board, first read the letter, he initially believed it to be a hoax of some kind. But was later dismayed when he was informed that a school official and the district’s lawyer, Charles R. Coslett had both conspired to take such drastic measures, specifically targeting anyone who owed $10 or more.

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“Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch,” read the letter, which was signed by Joseph Muth, director of federal programs for the Wyoming Valley West School District. “This is a failure to provide your child with proper nutrition and you can be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child’s right to food. If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care.”

“It was not approved by anyone,” Mr. Usavage said of the disturbing correspondence. “We have a policy that says everything should go through the superintendent.”

“We educate kids as best we can with what we have,” said Usavage. “We have a lot of successful kids, but never, never ever have we ever threatened anyone with this kind of letter.”

He also added, “We would never, ever allow a child to go hungry.”

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In response to the growing controversy, La Colombe Coffee Roasters CEO Todd Carmichael wrote an op-ed for The Philadelphia Inquirer, sharing his frustration over what he referred to as the “shaming” of parents.

“On Monday, we talked to School Board President Joseph Mazur to determine the best way to transfer the funds in order to wipe the slate clean and restore dignity to the 1,000 families who received these threatening letters,” Carmichael wrote. But went on to explain that he received a firm “no” from the school’s school board president Joseph Mazur.

“Shockingly, Mr. Mazur turned us down. I can’t explain or justify his actions. Let me be clear: we offered over $22,000 with no strings attached. And he said ‘No,’” he continued.

“Mr. Mazur, I am offering to pay this debt in full,” he added. “By saying no, you are not just shaming families who elected you, but you are placing this burden on WVW taxpayers, and that is completely unfair.”

Echoing similar sentiments, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey has called the school district’s actions “callous” and urged administrators to cease the threats of foster care.

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