The debt to the school board is about US$22,000 and the school has tried to recoup the money from non-paying parents "by mail, email, robo calls, personal calls and letters".

By Ian Horswill

Posted on July 24, 2019

Todd Carmichael, a successful CEO, has offered to pay the outstanding debts of students at a US school, but the offer has been rejected despite the involved children facing foster care for non-payment.

Carmichael, CEO and co-founder of Philadelphia-based La Colombe Coffee, said in a letter sent to newspapers that the offer, in part, was due to the fact that he himself had received free meals at school as a child.

“I know what it means to be hungry,” Carmichael wrote. “I know what it means to feel shame for not being able to afford food,” he wrote.

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However, the president of the board of Wyoming Valley West School District, in north eastern Pennsylvania, rejected the offer, according to Carmichael’s spokesman, AP News reported.

School board President Joseph Mazur refused to accept the offer, arguing that the money for breakfast and lunch is owed by parents who can afford to pay, said Carmichael’s spokesman Aren Platt.

“The position of Mr Carmichael is, irrespective of affluence, irrespective of need, he just wants to wipe away this debt,” said Platt.

“I’m just going to hold on and I’m going to continue to be optimistic and see if we can’t do something,” said the speciality coffee company boss. “Even if you’re a difficult person, we’re in. What can we do? Why prevent it?” he said.

The debt is about US$22,000 and the school has tried to recoup the money “by mail, email, robo calls, personal calls and letters”.

Todd Carmichael Photo: Todd Carmichael / Facebook

The letters from the school district warned parents that they “can be sent to dependency court for neglecting your child’s right to food”, and the children could be removed and placed in foster care.

Child welfare authorities have told the school district that Luzerne County does not run its foster system like that. Luzerne County’s manager and child welfare agency director wrote to Superintendent Irvin DeRemer, demanding the district stop making what it called false claims. DeRemer has not returned messages.

Mazur did not return a phone message left at his home. Wyoming Valley West School District’s solicitor, Charles Coslett, said he did not know what the school board plans to do.

“I don’t know what my client’s intention is at this point,” Coslett said. “That’s the end of the line.”

In an editorial published on Tuesday, the Times-Tribune of Scranton said the threats were shameful and an act of hubris. The paper urged lawmakers and the state Department of Education to “outlaw such outlandish conduct by law and regulation covering lunch debt collection”.

School officials considered serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to students with overdue accounts but received legal advice warning against it, the district’s federal programs director, Joseph Muth, said.

In the coming school year, Wyoming Valley West will qualify for funding to provide free lunches to all students.