The Pennsylvania school district that recently sent letters warning parents their kids could be placed in foster care if they did not pay off school lunch bills is doubling down on its plan to collect more than $20,000 from the families as a CEO says they have refused his offer to cover the debt.
Todd Carmichael, chief executive and co-founder of Philadelphia-based La Colombe Coffee, told the Associated Press this week that he offered to give Wyoming Valley West School District in Luzerne County $22,000 to wipe out bills that generated the recent letter to parents.
But school board President Joseph Mazur rejected the offer during a phone conversation Monday, Carmichael spokesman Aren Platt said, claiming the official argued that the parents who got the letters can afford to pay up.
"I know what it means to be hungry," Carmichael wrote in a letter sent to local newspapers in northeast Pennsylvania Monday, "I know what it means to feel shame for not being able to afford food."
The school district's letter, sent to homes on July 9, had accused parents who didn't send their children to school with lunch money of neglecting their child's "right to food." The district says around 1,000 student accounts owe a combined total of more than $20,000 in school lunch debt, and four parents owe at least $450 each.
The letters told parents if they are taken to Dependency court, "the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care," according to a copy obtained by WBRE. "Please remit payment as soon as possible to avoid being reported to the proper authorities.”
But the Luzerne County child welfare agency director has told the superintendent the letter was a misrepresentation and demanded the district retract it. However, Wyoming Valley West's lawyer, Charles Coslett, stood by it in an interview with WYOU-TV.
"Hopefully, that gets their attention and it certainly did, didn’t it?" he said. "I mean, if you think about it, you’re here this morning because some parents cried foul because he or she doesn’t want to pay a debt attributed to feeding their kids. How shameful."
When asked what the school board planned to do after it refused Carmichael's offer, Coslett said he wasn't sure. Officials previously said they had other means of recovering student lunch debt, including filing complaints in district court or placing liens on properties.
“I’m just going to hold on and I’m going to continue to be optimistic and see if we can’t do something,” Carmichael told the Associated Press Tuesday, noting that his offer still stands. “Even if you’re a difficult person, we’re in. What can we do?”
Fox News' Tyler Olson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.