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.
Steven Craig Spence, Jr.
Father of two