A Pennsylvania school district that warned parents behind on their lunch bills that their children could end up in foster care, and then rejected a businessman's offer to pay the overdue charges, looks as if it will end up accepting the donation after all.
The head of the district's nonprofit foundation said Wednesday that it would take a donation from Todd Carmichael, chief executive of Philadelphia-based La Colombe Coffee.
Michael Plaksin, president of the Wyoming Valley West Educational Foundation, said the decision was made during discussions he had with members of the school board.
"What is going on is that the school will be able to accept money, donations, so that we will be able to pay off the program as soon as possible," Plaksin said.
Wyoming Valley West School District officials recently wrote parents, trying to collect $22,000 in unpaid lunch bills.
The letters said parents "can be sent to dependency court for neglecting your child's right to food," and that children could be removed and placed in foster care.
Luzerne County child welfare authorities protested, saying they never remove children from homes over unpaid bills.
"Did people make mistakes? Of course, mistakes were made," said Plaksin, a Wyoming Valley West graduate. "Look, if three more people had proofread the letter before it was sent out, it never would have been sent out. It was that simple."
Carmichael, the pending donor, said his offer to pay the bills was rejected by the school board president during a phone conversation on Monday.
Plaksin said Wednesday, though, that there are plans to contact Carmichael to pursue his offer through the foundation.
State Rep. Aaron Kaufer, who attended district schools and represents the Wyoming Valley West area in the Legislature, said that when he could not get a district official on the phone Wednesday, he went there in person, and that after a long meeting officials told him the district would accept the money, funneled through the foundation.
"This issue needed to be laid to rest," said Kaufer, a Luzerne Republican. "We needed to get back to focusing on education."
Charles Coslett, the district's lawyer, said he was "in receipt of some information" but could not disclose what he knew, citing lawyer-client confidentiality. Attempts to reach other district officials were unsuccessful.
A spokesman for Carmichael, Aren Platt, said that the district's plan was cause for optimism, but that Carmichael wants all the parents who received the letters to be contacted and told the debt has been paid off.
"This process has not given us a ton of confidence in the elected school board of Wyoming Valley West," Platt said. "This is great, if they have figured it out, if they have legally figured out how the money moves and all of that, we welcome that."
School officials have said they considered serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to students with overdue accounts but got legal advice warning against it. In the coming school year, Wyoming Valley West will qualify for funding for free lunches for all students.