A few dozen students at Uintah Elementary School in the Salt Lake City School District went without lunch Tuesday after they were told they did not have enough money in their school accounts.
“We were all blind-sided,” said Erica Lukes, a parent who said her account was paid.
When students went through the lunch line with trays in hand, many did not make it past the pay station. The district confirmed 30 to 40 had their trays taken away because they couldn’t pay. They were given fruit and a milk instead. The district apologized Wednesday.
Fifth-grader Sophia Isom, Lukes’ daughter, was met by a district nutrition manager who was monitoring accounts.
The district said it started notifying parents about negative account balances Monday. But Sophia’s mother says she was not notified, and neither were other parents.
“Even if they did try to send the word out, you still don’t do that to a child,” she said. “You don’t take a lunch out of their hands.”
She fears many of the students were embarrassed in front of their peers to be singled out that way.
The Jordan School District does not have a set policy, but a spokesman said they will charge elementary school students up to five days, after which the principal will work with the student and family. Their clerks are told specifically not to deny lunch to any students in elementary school. As the students enter middle school and high school, the system becomes stricter and the students are held more accountable. Parents can also make immediate payments on mobile devices.
In the Granite District, when an account hits zero, the student still gets lunch, and the parents get a phone call and a letter. The Canyons District has a similar notification system.
Each of these districts, including Salt Lake City, has computerized programs that enable parents to set up recurring payments and get timely notifications. Salt Lake City encourages parents to use that system, which can be accessed from its website.