A letter to Uintah Elementary School

January 31, 2014

Uintah Elementary School
1571 E 1300 S
Salt Lake City, UT 84105

To the administration of Uintah Elementary School:

Ladies and gentlemen, I am neither a resident of your school district not a relation to any student who attends your facility. What I am is a parent who, like many others across this country and any other nation who learned of your school’s recent actions, can feel nothing short of outrage.

I must ask: What in the name of all that is humane and good in this world were you people thinking?

How could you dare take food away from children in your supposed care during the school day? Simply because their lunch accounts registered as delinquent? This is justification to go from table to table and remove trays from in front of exactly how many students?

Every news article so far read only reports 30-40 students: Perhaps you could provide the exact number of “offenders?”

While you’re at it, could you also advise the exact amount of debt for each student? Not a range, mind you, but the to-the-cent figures: I wish to learn both the grand total and the lowest amount of overdraft your institution saw fit to justify the removal of a tray from a grade-school child and subsequent instruction for her to “get a milk.”

With what money, pray tell?

How long overdue were these accounts? Had some of then been in the red for weeks with no response from parents or guardians to official notice from the school? How many went over budget with that day’s purchase? What is the standing policy on notice of impending overage? How long in advance is such notice sent home?

According to an MSNBC report, notice attempts were made on Monday (Jan. 20). The lunches were collected and thrown away in front of the assembled student body one day later. How did you send notice? By phone? Email? A note with the child?

My daughter’s school sends a note home with her and contacts my wife and I by phone to ensure receipt of the message. Until then, her lunches go on credit until the balance is paid. It’s a novel concept.

Of course, I supposed the argument could be made that your institution merely taught these children an important life lesson. After all, should one fail to pay one’s vehicle note, the lien holder can and will repossess the vehicle. Missed mortgage payments lead to foreclosed homes. Unpaid credit cards and bills cause collection calls and garnished wages.

You folks may genuinely not know of these things: You may never have experienced them. Allow me to educate the educators: There is no fun to be found in them. None at all. A person who goes through them tends to feel lessened as a person, regardless of the circumstances that caused the problem.

There is, however, a significant difference between my provided examples and your actions: One understands the punishment for missed payments in the former; I highly doubt that anyone truly imagined and public school – funded in part by the parents of the same children from whom you took food – could act in such a manner.

I would like to quote your principal, Chelsea Malouf:

“Within our ‘Community of Caring’ RESPECT is a key word.”

This statement, taken from the school’s website, raises a question in my mind: for whom is this respect intended? The students and their peers? Authority figures? Celebrities? Local opinion leaders? It certainly seems not for those 30-40 students whose lunches became garbage: What better way to lessen their self-esteem and the RESPECT from their peers?

You could always follow Nathaniel Hawthorne’s example. Stitch an emerald D to their clothing! That way the shame can extend beyond the school yard and into the community-at-large!

Out of curiosity, what typically becomes of the unused portions of food? I know – again, from news reports – that these repossessed meals became fodder for the local landfill. Is that standard procedure for all unconsumed food?

I understand and respect your policy that food cannot be served to a second student once served to another. Could this food, these repossessed meals, no have been donated to a local mission or shelter instead of sent to waste management? While it would have best served to fill the bellies of the students from whom it was taken, a noble secondary cause would have been to feed a nutritious meal to someone in need.

Just a thought.

Ladies and gentlemen, I must again ask what made this course of action seem in the least bit appropriate and reasonable? Over the course of my writing this letter and reading – and often re-reading – reports of this debacle, I must confess that I am no closer to understanding than before.

I hope your investigations into this matter yield both results and reforms, not to mention public apologies to those children. Perhaps that can help to re-build their damaged dignity.

Sincerely,

Steven Craig Spence, Jr.
Father of two

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7 thoughts on “A letter to Uintah Elementary School

  1. My children’s school does the same! They will never deprive a child of food because of a negative balance. Proper notice is sent home. No idea what happens if there is failure to pay on said balance (I’ve not let it go that far), but I’ve got 4 kids, a job and a life… Sometimes, I forget to check their lunch accounts. It happens! No child should be punished nor humiliated for their parents problems!#

    1. Same with me, Sam. Lily’s school tends to send a note home when her account goes into the negative. We’ve received phone calls here lately and they often come before she’s overdrawn. I figure they’ve updated the policy. The very thought of her school even attempting to pull a stunt like this boggles my mind.

  2. Def. not on the same level, but I was pulled from class in HS bc my parents were a few days late paying the tuition bill (I went to private HS). I was sent home and not allowed back to class until the late bill was paid, and the next month was paid up.. This was in the 90s before email and electronic banking..
    I must say that I am not surprised however but this story. I moved 2 miles to a new house and my 4 year old now can not go to the Public preschool I pay for because they took his bussing away….These school take too many liberties…its sick…maybe the school administrators who make 6 figures could have put in some money so the kids could eat….

    1. I read your post, Abby. A friend of mine went through a similar circumstance with her son: Thanks to a few yards of road, she should have sent her son to one school instead of the one he had attended since pre-K. She lucked out and managed to obtain a waiver.

      And, to make sure I’m following correctly, you still must foot the tax bill for your oldest’s school even though he can no longer attend?

      1. Well the way it works in the town that I am in, is this-I live in Aberdeen and moved from Matawan,. It is officially the Matawan-Aberdeen school district so I am paying regardless. What irks me the most is that they took my kids busing away. Because I am less than 2 miles from the school they assume we can walk or drive. Which is fine except when I have class (wed) or when the weather is terrible. For my younger son who goes to a paid public pre school program, it is just too cold in the winter to walk the 1.2 miles (about a 20 minute walk according to google maps) especially when they have my 2 year old in tow-
        and of course that walk would only be possible as long as all the people on the way shoveled the sidewalks on the way.
        Overall I just regret changing my address officially. If I had lied from the start (I moved into my moms house and could have used her addy from the start) this would have not been an issue.

  3. It’s a little different here: I’m in the Tipton County school district and they insist – INSIST – on buses for children who are not driven to school. We live 0.4 miles from the school: Lily would get on the bus at 7 a.m., arrive at school at about 7:04 a.m., and sit there until the day actually started! Of course, I often find myself wondering if this area knows sidewalks exist…
    The way I read your post reminds me of the wonderful bus system here: Instead of riding a bus that stops a whole 50 feet from our current stop (and ran a little later), we swapped buses for reasons I still don’t really understand!
    But you didn’t move all that far, am I right? And the school runs a bus that makes stops right by your house? Good grief…

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