The Salt Lake Tribune reported the Uintah Elementary students had picked up their lunches Tuesday only to have the meals taken from them and thrown away because they had outstanding balances on their accounts.
"It was pretty traumatic and humiliating," said Erica Lukes, whose 11-year-old daughter was one of the targeted children. "I think it's despicable. These are young children that shouldn't be punished or humiliated for something the parents obviously need to clear up."
Salt Lake City school district spokesman Jason Olsen told the newspaper the district's child-nutrition manager made the decision to withhold the lunches because of the unpaid balances but the cafeteria workers had already handed out the lunches so they then took them back. He said the lunches had to be thrown away because they couldn't be served to others, and the children were given milk and fruit, a standard practice when children would otherwise go hungry.
Olsen said school officials usually tell students of any balances and send home notifications to parents each week but were unable to reach all the parents by phone Monday and Tuesday before the decision was made to take the lunches away.
"Something's not working, and that's what the school and child-nutrition department are going to work on together," Olsen said. "This can be easily prevented.
"If students were humiliated and upset, that's very unfortunate and not what we wanted to happen."