SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Up to 40 students with overdue food accounts had their school lunches taken away last week because of breakdowns in communication over a new payment system, according to a preliminary report presented to the Salt Lake City School District board Tuesday night.
Board members heard from Kelly Orton, district child nutrition department director, about why 30 to 40 children at Uintah Elementary who were trying to buy lunch had their meals thrown away in an incident that angered parents, stirred outrage around the country and prompted the district to put two employees on leave, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. School officials apologized and launched an investigation into how far the problem reached.
Several dozen parents attended the meeting, and some said the report was vague and the workers put on leave were being blamed.
The children who had their $2 meals thrown out were given milk and fruit, a standard practice when students don’t have lunch money. The report didn’t indicate whose decision it was to toss the lunches.
The report says the meals were seized because nutrition department policies weren’t followed, some parents weren’t told about overdrawn meal accounts, they weren’t given enough time to pay balances and the school principal wasn’t included in decision making.
Under board member questioning, Orton said his department didn’t properly tell parents about a new electronic payment system and promised efforts so meals aren’t tossed again. He said the investigation was ongoing and his report wasn’t definitive.
Many parents weren’t aware of the system swap that makes it harder to set up email alerts about balances, he said, whereas the old system automatically sent out messages. He says the new system is more cost efficient and processes payments quicker.
But Orton said the department “did fail in getting information out effectively.”