July 21 (UPI) -- A school district in Pennsylvania sent letters to 1,000 parents threatening to place their children in foster care if they fail to pay their school lunch debts.
The Wyoming Valley West School District sent the letters, signed by the director of federal programs Joseph Muth, listing the amount due and warning that the parents could be reported to Luzerne County dependency court if the debt is not paid.
"Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without breakfast and/or lunch. This is a failure to provide your child with proper nutrition and you can be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child's right to food," a letter dated July 9 that was reviewed by NBC News stated.
Muth told Pennsylvania news station WNEP that the school district is owed $22,000 by about 1,000 students, including four accounts that owe more than $450 each, and the letters were a last resort to collect payment after parents were contacted by phone, email and other letters multiple times.
He added children with outstanding debt are still served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Luzerne County requested that the school district retract the letter, which county Children and Youth Services Executive Director Joanne Van Saun said was a "gross misrepresentation" of what the agency does.
"It's just not true. We do not remove children from families for unpaid bills," she said.
The school district agreed to send a follow-up letter to the affected families.