Parents voice concern to Salt Lake City School Board over seized lunches

SALT LAKE CITY — Dozens of Uintah Elementary School kids were humiliated after their school lunches were taken away, and thrown in the trash a week ago.

The story made national headlines and the cafeteria worker put on paid leave is being called a scapegoat.

Tuesday night the Salt Lake City School Board of Education listened to parents about what they want done.

There was anger, hurt feelings and disappointment expressed in the meeting. One parent called what happened last Tuesday bullying and believe Shirley, the cafeteria manager put on leave, is a scapegoat. Several parents demanded she be allowed back to work and “the real person responsible” for the debacle be reprimanded, not Shirley.

Parents also shared their frustration over how nearly 40 school kids were denied lunch because their accounts were past due saying the district owes them an apology after being publicly humiliated.  One parent even suggested the kids not only get an “I’m sorry,” but cupcakes along with the apology.

Parents say the national public outrage as a result, from vile Facebook comments, to nasty calls to the school and its teachers is also an embarrassment.

In response, the school board is investigating last Tuesday’s incident and The Salt Lake City School District’s Child Nutrition Director released a preliminary report. The most significant changes taking effect immediately: no child will have their lunch taken away ever again, all students will be able to accrue one week of negative balances and still receive full meals and that once that balance reaches $0, parents will be notified every day until that account is filled back up.

“I feel like our lovely lunch lady Miss Shirley who faces the kids day in and day out is taking the hit for a decision I know she did not make,” said parent Sarah Turley.

“Shaming kids for something they have no control over is wrong, it’s bullying plain and simple and there’s the irony of throwing away perfectly good food,” said parent Jacklyn Slack during the meeting.

After some heated statements, some board members took aim at the district.

The statement was another firework coming out of the meeting. Two board members spoke out saying, there’s a culture within the district that breeds a sense of fear that even if employees believe for example, taking away a school lunch is wrong, they follow the directives of someone above. The comments alone got a lot of clapping from parents.

The Uintah Elementary School Principal posted a letter on the schools website saying in part “What happened last Tuesday was not standard practice. I am sincerely sorry that students were humiliated and food was wasted.”

Read the full letter at http://uintah.slcschools.org 

Parents say what happened last Tuesday is nothing new; they believe it happens at schools with lower socioeconomic status and think because this happened at Uintah, a school that doesn’t have the same financial hardship as Title 1 schools, that perhaps that’s also why it’s garnered so much attention.

The preliminary report released also included the possible lapses saying department procedures were not followed, some parents weren’t notified of the negative balances, and some weren’t given enough time to put money into their school lunch accounts.

There’s still a detailed investigation underway.