You wouldn’t think people would want the title of “America’s Meanest,” but it seems so many are vying for it.
Today’s winner: Joseph Mazur, president of the Wyoming Valley West School District in Kingston, Pennsylvania. Winning move? Sending out letters threatening to take children away from parents who haven’t paid their kids’ lunch fees.
According to a July 22 story on NPR, the school district was trying to recover $22,000 in overdue school lunch fees. So they did what any creditor would do – threaten to rip a family apart by reporting lunch fee delinquents to the state and have the children placed into foster care.
Do delinquent lunch fees give the system the right to go all cruel and unusual on kids? No it doesn’t – this is America. America should be better than that.
“I think this whole thing has just been blown out of proportion,” Mazur told NPR. Just like the reports that Mazur and his school official comrades have hearts. The district website’s lead page ironically shows kids having a snack and has a notice for a “summer food service program.”
Tone-deaf doesn’t start to describe the school district’s position. I’m not going to sift through the school board’s election platforms – paddles in every room? Dunce caps for every missed equation? Wedgies for every skinny kid in phys ed? – to see where this thinking sprouts from.
It’s just wrong.
As this story was breaking, the Times Leader newspaper in Wilkes-Barre reported the school has crossed a threshold that allows it to apply for free school lunches for all of its nearly 5,000 students (https://bit.ly/2LzKWti). I’d call that a delicious irony, but the school district would probably want to boil the phrase and serve it to the students.
Mazur defends the school’s move by noting the frustration of not being able to collect the lunch fees through nice letters and other means. There’s nothing wrong with brainstorming, with floating the idea that a tough letter might bring in more fees. What’s bad is that no one in the district was insightful enough to see what’s wrong with that and say, “Uh, wait a minute, is this really a good idea?”
The silver lining to this story came from outside the district as donations were offered and, after a head-scratching initial rejection, were accepted by the district to pay off families’ lunch debts.
It’s hard to believe that officials at any level of government would seriously consider using children as pawns to try to influence their parents’ behavior. It’s abhorrent that, at all levels of government, they’re doing it. It’s outrageous that most people’s thoughts about how kids are mistreated is simply, “meh.”
“America’s Meanest” need to leave the kids out of it, and the rest of us need to quit standing idly by and start giving the mean people hell.
Gary Presley is pagination director for AIM Media Midwest. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org