Continuous destructive instances resulting from racism, cultural insensitivity, economic superiority, gender inequalities, immigration protocols perpetrated against black and brown people, human rights violations, and inequities that have become embedded in various sectors of our national society have preoccupied me. I find it appalling that political, business, church, educational, and community leaders in the United States of America proudly follow, endorse, and celebrate the degrading rhetoric of President Donald Trump as he overtly resurrects the blatant hatred, divisive speech making, unconcealed discrimination, deliberate bigotry, and obvious prejudice against many groups of human beings that once were, during my lifetime, more cleverly suppressed but certainly not invisible.
Pathetic incident after disgusting confrontation after nasty occurrence have been magnified throughout traditional and social media in recent years. These heartless episodes imitate and mirror the derogatory disposition of the man who was elected by the people to lead our country. It is my straightforward belief that such followers and leaders have become emboldened, empowered, and entitled to create harmful situations against men, women, and children that duplicate the layers of hatred that I believe consumes Donald Trump.
My goal to respond to at least one incident that has powerfully permeated social media had been purposefully delayed.
Until recently, I diligently searched for the inspiration and the words to elaborate on my outrage and to offer solutions that have the capacity to transform evil hearts into those filled with compassion. My decision to attend a church service in a small town in Iowa recently encouraged me to use my written voice to respond to one of the aforementioned troubling issues.
Don't Have Lunch Money? A Pennsylvania School District Threatens Foster Care
Dozens of families in Pennsylvania received an alarming letter from their public school district this month informing…
In summary, the Wyoming Valley West School District located Luzerne County in the state of Pennsylvania endeavored to collect approximately $22,000 that was owed in delinquent student lunch accounts from the 2018–2019 school year. Mr. Joseph Muth, Director of Federal Programs sent a disturbing letter to each family who owed money demanding that their bills be paid or there would be a possibility that their children would be placed in foster care. The letter represented the final attempt of the district to collect the outstanding funds.
The regional community in Pennsylvania became so outraged due to national attention that the incident generated on numerous media outlets that individuals volunteered to pay the debt. In fact, Mr. Joseph Mazur, President Board of School Directors of the school district initially refused to accept the payment when Mr. Todd Carmichael, CEO offered to pay off the debt in full. The rationale of the board president for denying the generosity of the business owner was that he felt as though it was the exclusive responsibility of the parents to pay the lunch bills that their children incurred. All of the negative attention placed upon the Wyoming Valley West School District ultimately resulted in the acceptance of the considerate payment made by Mr. Carmichael. Additionally, the district posted a second letter on their website and sent it to the offending parents and the community at large apologizing for the aggressive tone of the first communication. Finally, the district has publicized that they are in the process of applying for a federal grant that will pay for all student lunches for the next five years regardless of their economic level.
Concerning Fact About The Wyoming Valley West School District
The Wyoming Valley West School District is one of the poorest districts in the state and is situated within a coal mining town in Northeastern Pennsylvania. It is safe to conclude that diverse social and economic challenges that exist within the school district are also pervasive within many households enrolled in the district.
The letter distributed to the parents who owed money on their child’s lunch account violated district wide anti-bully efforts. Bully/Cyberbullying Policy Number 249 was revised on August 8, 2018. The school district defines bullying as “a form of harassment in which behavior is intended to harm or cause distress to another.” Additionally, the district wide policy considers bullying to be “actions that insult or demean another”. Finally, the policy states that “bullying may be verbal, written, electronically transmitted, or psychological.” The school district violated their own Bully/Cyberbullying Policy by sending the inappropriate communication to parents. Here are two specific examples of the policy violations.
Example One: The policy states that “The Wyoming Valley West School District will be committed to providing a compassionate atmosphere.”: Unfortunately, the tone of letter accentuates institutional power over economically challenged families. The most recent census data from the school district indicates that the median household income is a little more than $46,000 and 22% of children under age 18 live in poverty. While children from economically challenged families may be the recipients of the free and reduced lunch program, there may be other hidden factors within many other families enrolled in that educational system that contribute to food insecurities. This includes the inability of families to pay for student lunches or to provide a lunch for students to bring to school. Based upon their assumption that the failure of the families to pay for their delinquent lunches is due to their pure negligence and their displaced financial priorities, this policy violation demonstrated the failure of school leaders to genuinely understand the economic circumstances that adversely impacts the families who are a part of their educational community.
Example Two: The policy prohibits “the creation of an intimidating or hostile environment”. Disturbingly, the Wyoming Valley West School District endorsed the separation of families by unlawfully threatening parents who owed money with the possibility of their children being placed in foster care. In response to the letter that was sent to parents, Ms. Joanne Van Saun, Executive Director of the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services said, “I found it very disturbing. Upsetting. It’s a total misrepresentation of what our agency does. I have been employed for Luzern County Children and Youth Services for 33 years. Never has this county removed a child from a home for unpaid bills and never will we”. School district leaders forcefully instilled fear in parents in order for them to pay their outstanding lunch debt even though the policy prohibits retaliation.
In conclusion, I am a Family Engagement Influencer. I dedicate my efforts to advocating for family engagement in education. In my professional opinion, the unacceptable and alarming actions of the Wyoming Valley West School District destroyed their capacity to build trust and strong relationships with parents so that family engagement continuously grows.
My Visit To The Country Church
The sermon presented at the Valley Junction Church that I recently attended in the state of Iowa empowered me to respond to the unfortunate occurrence that took place within the Wyoming Valley West School District. Concisely stated, the words spoken by the preacher helped me to understand how one’s reaction to the disappointing behavior of another who has made a minor mistake has the capacity to erupt into negative emotional responses. Here is an abbreviated summary the key points that Pastor Quintin Stieff presented to his congregation:
1. Hostility results when interactions with others are not what they should be.
2. This leads to bitterness.
3. If these volatile emotions are not dealt with, anger becomes intense.
4. Malice, which includes plotting against those offenders, grows.
5. Speaking evil against those who are at fault manifests through slander.
6. Wrath produces an explosive outburst aimed at guilty parties.
Instead of people allowing anger to mutate into these cruel responses to others, Pastor Quintin Stieff suggested that individuals rely on the following the Biblical and character principles in response to petty offenses so that a healthy and positive outlook will be maintained. In doing so, relationships are preserved. A brief summary of these unique traits follow.
- Instead of being consumed with the minor infractions of another, it is more important to acknowledge and correct one’s own shortcomings.
- Compassion must be demonstrated during interactions with those who have made minor mistakes through kind and respectful responses.
- Despite the wrong that a person commits, there must be a concern for and care about their humanity. Kindness and goodness must override their error.
- Forgiveness, the most important attribute, is synonymous with mercy. Leniency must be extended to individuals who are at fault to enable them to make positive strides as they move forward so that past mistakes will not be repeated.
Solutions To The Wyoming Valley West School District Dilemma
The information embedded in the sermon preached by the Iowa pastor initially reflects the wrong approach that the Wyoming Valley West School District took in in shaming delinquent parents into paying the lunch bills. Conversely, the address shared by the pastor accentuated a more powerful and positive approach that the district could have taken in dealing with their outstanding lunch debts.
Instead of implementing the harsh steps that they did in collecting the outstanding funds and initially refusing the accept the generosity of the business owner who offered to pay off the debt, the school officials could have used the steps outlined by Pastor Stieff that I have paraphrased by:
- Carefully reviewing the reasons why they allowed so many of the parents to accumulate such a high debts in unpaid lunch bills. Proactive measures could have been developed to prevent such a significant level of indebtedness at the end of the school year.
- While the district was within their right to collect the lunch money that was owed to them, they should have endeavored to understand the reasons why their families did not pay their bills. Simply asking the parents while contacts were made to them if they had the ability to pay the outstanding amount would have let the families know that the district was concerned about their financial struggles.
- The school district could have reassured the families by letting them know that they cared about them. This encouragement would have motivated the delinquent parents to do their best to resolve their bills.
- The school district could have been honest with their community and solicited their support is resolving the debts. Had the district let leaders within the region know that some parents did not have the ability to pay for their debt, neighborly stakeholders who had the capacity to pay would have helped. Most significantly, when people, including the business leader who ultimately paid the debt out of the goodness of his heart offered to do so, the district should have been willing to immediately accept the payment offers with a spirit of gratitude instead of promoting their resistance. This would have demonstrated their capacity to forgive the parents instead of punishing them.
Despite the fact that the Wyoming Valley West School District announced that they were applying for a five year federal grant that may enable them to pay for all student lunches in the future as a result of the negativity that erupted due to their error in sending the derogatory letter, they should, along within every other school district in the United States, ensure that all student receive free meals at school.
My rationale for proposing that all students become entitled to meals at no charge while in school is based on the following doctrine.
In loco parentis represents legal terminologies that upholds that reality that schools assume the responsibility and function of parents while students are in the custody of educators while physically at school. Therefore, teachers, administrators, and other school officials take the place of parents when children attend school.
If schools assume the power of the parent while students attend, the responsibility of feeding them during school hours must be removed from the family. I believe that it must become the responsibility of the school district to feed their students. Furthermore, it is my professional belief that school districts must budget their financial resources and secure funding to provide free meals to all students.
What is your opinion about the mistakes made by the Wyoming Valley West School District, the sermon presented at the country church, and the solutions that I provided? Your feedback is valued.