A Pennsylvania school district that threatened to put children into foster care if parents did not pay overdue lunch debts has accepted a CEO's donation to settle the bills after initially rejecting the offer.
The CEO and co-founder of La Colombe Coffee Roasters, Todd Carmichael, says that he offered to give Wyoming Valley West School District $22,000 to settle the students' lunch debts on Monday after learning about a strongly-worded letter sent to parents earlier this month.
The letter sent on July 9 said that parents and guardians could "be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child's right to food." It went on to read, "If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care."
According to the latest data from the United States Census Bureau, 14 percent of people who live in the school district are below the poverty line, whereas the average for Pennsylvania is four percent.
"I think it doesn't take a rocket scientist to put A and B together here to realize that these people are struggling," Carmichael told WPVI. "We're shaming people who are struggling, and that's immoral and that's just wrong."
"I know what it means to be hungry. I know what it means to feel shame for not being able to afford food," Carmichael wrote in a letter published in local Pennsylvania newspapers, which was provided to ABC News. "I worked with my team to reach out to the school district to let them know we were eager to donate the full amount outstanding."
However, Aren Platt, Carmichael's spokesperson, said that the district's school board president, Joseph Mazur, refused the offer, and stated that the money is owed by parents who could afford to pay.
"The position of Mr. Carmichael is irrespective of affluence, irrespective of need," Platt told WPVI. "He just wants to wipe away this debt."
But in statement released on Wednesday, Mazur not only apologizes "for the tone of the letter that was sent regarding lunch debt," but also accepted Carmichael's offer.
"We want to thank everyone for their concern and generous donation offers to help pay for the unpaid lunch bills," the statement read in part. "We would like to acknowledge Mr. Todd Carmichael’s generous offer. We have been in touch with Michael Plaksin, president of the Wyoming Valley West Educational Foundation (previously established to benefit the students of our district). After discussions with Mr. Plaksin and all members of the Wyoming Valley West School Board, we have decided to accept Mr. Carmichael’s generous donation. It will be directed to the Wyoming Valley West Educational Foundation to eliminate the debt owed by the parents."
The statement from the school board goes on to read that next year, all students of Wyoming Valley West School District will receive free breakfast and lunch, regardless of income. This is the first year the district fully qualified for the Community Eligibility Program, and students are promised the free two meals each school day for the next five years.
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