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Utah school takes lunches from students with account deficits

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (WTVR) — Utah parents are criticizing an elementary school for taking school lunches away from students because of unpaid accounts.

However, school officials claim the children did not go hungry.

When fifth-grader Sophia Isom got into the lunch line Tuesday, the girl said she was met by a district nutrition manager who was monitoring accounts.

“So she took my lunch away and she’s like, ‘Go get a milk.’ And I come back up and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ Then she handed me an orange and she said, ‘You don’t have any money in your account, so you can’t get lunch,’” Sophia said.

Sophia said the food was thrown out.

“We were all blind-sided,” said Erica Lukes, Sophia’s mother. “There were lots of tears, and it was pretty upsetting for them.”

The district said it started notifying parents about negative account balances Monday, but Sophia’s mother said she was never notified.

“Even if they did try to send the word out, you still don’t do that to a child,” she said. “You don’t take a lunch out of their hands.”

“It probably could have, and should have, been handled in a different manner,” Jason Olsen, a spokesperson for the Salt Lake City School District, said.

Olsen said they will review the notification system and admitted that the district should have given the kids a grace period.

“They did take that tray away and gave them fruit and a milk,” Olsen said. “We don’t ever let kids go without any food entirely.”

The Jordan School district said they will charge elementary school students up to five days, after which the principal will work with the student and family.

In the Granite district, when an account hits zero, the student still gets lunch, and the parents get a phone call and a letter. The Canyons district has a similar notification system.

Each of these districts has computerized programs, which enable parents to set up recurring payments and get timely notifications.

“That will help, but we also need to handle these things with delicacy,” Olsen said.

Click here to read more on this story from KSTU in Salt Lake City.