Lawmakers address threatening lunch letter

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(WBRE/WYOU) — A controversial and some may say threatening letter sent to parents in the Wyoming Valley West School District is capturing national attention. The letter tells parents their child could be placed in foster care unless they make good on delinquent lunch bills.

This story is growing exponentially. Media outlets around the country, including NBC Nightly News, are doing reports about it and Friday, federal and state lawmakers are weighing in on the controversy.

“I really couldn’t believe it,” Luzerne County Representative Tarah Toohil said.

That’s how state representative Tarah Toohil reacted when she heard about the letter sent to about 1,000 parents in the Wyoming Valley West School District. District officials say it was an attempt to collect some $20,000 of unpaid lunch bills.

The letter read that children could be removed from homes and placed into foster care if they did not pay up. This is what transpired Thursday when Eyewitness News asked district officials about that letter. They were not on the same page.

“Hopefully that gets their attention and it certainly did, didn’t it?” district solicitor Charles Coslett said.

“When I first read the letter, the top of my head almost came off,” school board vice president David Usavage said. “The only thing that was missing was when are we going to put them in cages and send them to Mexico.”

The school district admits it went too far in that letter and will send a second, softer worded letter to the parents next week. Toohil, a big supporter of foster care, says it should not be used as a threat. She insists many of these parents may have financial needs and are not neglecting their children.

“It doesn’t help. It’s very negative and we want people to be able to reach out to school, reach out to the government when they need help,” Toohil said.

United States Senator Bob Casey expressed his concerns about the letter Friday in two separate tweets. In one tweet he writes: “No child should have to imagine the horror of being ripped away from their parents because their family is struggling economically. These letters were callous and should never have happened.”

Casey says moving forward, the school district must find an appropriate way to collect these funds instead of using threats. Wyoming Valley West School District is expected to send out a second letter to parents next week and discuss the issue at a special meeting that has yet to be scheduled.

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