School district that warned parents of foster care wouldn't let me erase lunch debts, CEO says

The district sent a letter to parents warning that if they fail to pay their school-lunch debts "you can be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child's right to food.”

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By Phil Helsel and Minyvonne Burke

A Pennsylvania school district that warned parents that unpaid lunch fees could lead to their children being placed in foster care rejected a businessman's offer to clear the debts, a Philadelphia CEO said.

La Colombe Coffee CEO Todd Carmichael said the Wyoming Valley West School Board's president on Monday told him "no" when he offered to give the district $22,000 to cover the outstanding debts.

Carmichael said in a letter obtained by NBC News that he received free meals at school when he was a child and was "horrified" when he heard of the threatening letters, which were sent to parents and demanded they pay up or risk having their children placed in foster care. The letters sent to parents were obtained by NBC affiliate WBRE of Wilkes-Barre.

"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 in the letter.

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"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,'" the letter stated.

It was not immediately clear why Carmichael's offer to pay the outstanding debts was reportedly refused. Multiple attempts by NBC News to reach the Wyoming Valley West School Board were unsuccessful.

A letter dated July 9 sent by the district said: “Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without breakfast and/or lunch. 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.”

It states that if the parent is taken to court, they risk their child being removed "and placed in foster care." "Please remit payment as soon as possible to avoid being reported to the proper authorities," it says.

A letter from the Luzerne County school district demanded parents pay delinquent lunch bills for their children or face the risk of having their children placed in foster care.WBRE

The letter was signed by Joseph Muth, director of federal programs for the Wyoming Valley West School District.

Muth said in a phone interview Friday that the letter was "overzealously stated" and would be "corrected in house." Muth said at that time that other letters would be sent that were not as severe.

The district is trying to collect about $20,000 in unpaid debts, WBRE reported.

The Wyoming Valley West School District is in Luzerne County, near Wilkes-Barre.

Luzerne County Manager David Pedri told NBC News on Tuesday that several other people have reached out offering to pay all or a portion of the school district's lunch debt. Pedri said he forwarded those offers to the School Board for their review.