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Parents fear district is setting up scapegoats in lunch fiasco
Education » Parents are skeptical about employees placed on leave, want personal apologies to kids.

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"The school has three phone numbers for me and three email addresses. But how did I hear I had a negative $4 balance? From my daughter calling me and crying," he said. "Everyone is culpable here except the kids."

The district moved this year to a new online-payment system. Conway wants to know why and who might have benefited from the switch.

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"Last year I’d get an alert every time my account had less than $20 in it," he said. "This year we’ve received no notices, no notes home."

Pia said she realized her account was in the negative only after she checked it this week in the wake of the uproar. She said the old system sent emails when her balance was low, and she didn’t realize a new system was in place until now.

May said she did receive a call Monday, notifying her that her daughter’s account was negative. But then her daughter’s food was taken Tuesday, leaving her little time to put more money in the account.

Olsen has said the district is now investigating its notification procedures.

Denise Capek, who has children at the school in second grade and kindergarten, said those who made the decision should be held accountable. Her daughter was absent Tuesday and her son packs a lunch.

Parents said they sympathize with all that public schools have to manage, but say the district’s payment system is inadequate and its policy of denying kids full lunches is reprehensible. 

"Hopefully something will change," said Claire Francis, noting her now-teenage son was once denied lunch while at Ensign Elementary. "But I’m concerned that Uintah is getting all this attention when there are kids in other parts of the district who have serious food security issues. It’s frustrating it takes that kind of privilege and power for the district to finally wake up to something that other schools have dealt with for years."

People nationwide have been offering to donate money to the school and the parents affected. Van Wagoner said Friday she appreciates the outpouring of support. But she urged people to give to their local schools instead. The PTA at Uintah, which is not in a low-income area, has put money into an account to prevent kids being denied lunches in the future, she said.

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She also wants everyone to know that Uintah is a great school, and hopes the threats and anger toward school workers stops. "None of this is being directed at the right party," she said, arguing that the district is responsible, not the school.

Van Wagoner said she’s been surprised at the huge reaction. At least, she said, it will ensure nothing similar ever happens again.

"It will definitely make a change," she said.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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