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Cafeteria lady speaks, says she had no choice but to toss lunches

She recognizes she did some things wrong, but feels there’s a lot of blame to go around.

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"The district has taken responsibility for the situation, for what happened at Uintah," Swett said.

Shirley, however, told The Tribune on Wednesday she feels that she has been one of the only people to take blame for this situation.

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On Feb. 12, Kelly Orton, director of the Child Nutrition Department, issued Shirley a written warning informing her that "you have not met the expectations related to your role as Nutrition Manager at Uintah Elementary nor as an employee of the Salt Lake City School District."

That warning describes concerns including that Shirley provided "false" and "misleading" information that she routinely replaced kids’ meals when she did not, and that she attempted to contact parents with outstanding balances and consulted with the principal when she had not.

It also accuses her of not properly notifying parents about their balances and not following directions from that November memo. It criticized her as well for throwing away fruit and having kids take new fruit.

It says she violated district policy in a number of areas, including through "conduct which exposes the district to censure, ridicule, damage or reproach."

"Your actions assisted in creating confusion and fear that day," the warning states. "Had you appropriately been addressing the negative account balances, communicating with parents, incorporating new policy directives, and working with your principal, I believe that the events that transpired on January 28, 2014 would not have occurred."

Shirley told the Tribune on Wednesday she doesn’t think she lied to her supervisors or gave them false information.

She did acknowledge, however, it was difficult to always notify all parents of their balances because she was short-staffed.

She said she was not routinely replacing kids’ lunches when they were behind on balances, as she was supposed to.

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"It was very difficult for me to see these kids crying and telling me, ‘You know my mom didn’t have the money,’" Shirley told The Tribune. "I’d just look at them and say, ‘It’s OK. Somebody paid your lunch today,’ which was not always the truth."

District Superintendent McKell Withers said Wednesday: "It never was wrong to do partial lunches. The way it was handled and the way food was exchanged was clearly wrong and inappropriate at many levels.

"We’ve been very, very clear we don’t want kids to waste food and throw it away, and that’s why it was so reprehensible that an adult would throw it away," he added.

He said two employees were ultimately disciplined, but he declined to name the employees or describe the disciplinary actions. Attorney John Robson said the district does not comment on specific disciplinary actions.

For her part, Shirley, who’s worked for the district for 14 years, takes some of the blame for what happened at Uintah that day.

"I do hold myself a little bit accountable," Shirley said. "I took the trays. I took them and made those little kids cry and it was horrible."

She said she’s gone over that day in her mind many times, thinking about what she could have done differently.

But she said she’s not the only one at fault.

"I don’t want to blame anybody," she said. "I want to be accountable. But I don’t think that I need to take the blame hook, line and sinker like they would like me to.

"I’m accountable for it, but I think everybody right to the top is accountable for it," she added.

For weeks, parents have been pressing Shirley’s case with board members, saying she shouldn’t be made the scapegoat.

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