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Pennsylvania School District Threatens Foster Care Placement Over Lunch Debt

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  • A Pennsylvania school district sent letters to over three dozen parents who had accumulated a school meal debt of $10 or more, warning them to pay the balance or risk having their child placed in foster care.
  • The local social services agency criticized the school for “weaponizing” the foster care system to scare families into paying lunch bills.
  • The president of the district’s board of education said the letters may have been strong, but they worked. 
  • Meanwhile, the vice president of the school board said the letters were not approved by the superintendent and is calling a meeting to discuss the issue, but said future letters will be less threatening.  

Debt Letter Sent 

A Pennsylvania school district faced backlash for sending letters to parents this month, warning them to pay off their children’s school lunch debt otherwise they may face consequences that could result in their child being placed in foster care. 

“Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch,” the letter from Joseph Muth, director of federal programs for the Wyoming Valley West School District, read.

“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. If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care.” the letter continued.

Wyoming West Valley School District – The New York Times

The letters were sent out to those with a balance of at least $10 or more.

Outrage Over Foster Care Threat 

Parents in Luzerne County did not respond well to the threat from the school district and the letter soon made national headlines. But the mention of foster care also pulled Luzerne County Children and Youth Services into the issue.

“The Luzerne County Children and Youth Foster Care System is NOT utilized to scare families into paying school lunch bills,” Joanne Van Saun, director of the local agency, wrote in a letter to the district’s superintendent. 

“We exist to protect and preserve families. The only time a child is taken out is when they cannot be maintained safely in their home,” she later told CNN. “Our agency has helped many children and families with paying rent and buying clothes. We know children do better when they’re with their families.”

Van Saun added that she felt “blindsided” by the district’s letter, especially since the district and the agency have had a good relationship with one another in the past. “The way they handled it was totally inappropriate, unnecessary and could’ve easily been resolved through so many different avenues.” she said. 

C. David Pedri, Luzerne county manager, also wrote the district a letter complaining about the notice.“It weaponizes Luzerne County’s foster care system,” Pedri said on Saturday in a statement to The New York Times. “It’s exactly what we’re not here to do. The foster care system is here to help kids who are abused.”

“Taking a kid out of a house is one of the most extreme things that a foster care system has ever tried to do,” he added. “So you don’t do it lightly. We would never take a kid out of a house for failing to pay a school lunch bill.”

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey even called the letters “callous,” adding, “No child should have to imagine the horror of being ripped away from their parents because their family is struggling economically.” 

Mixed Responses From Officials

According to CNN, Wyoming Valley’s Cafeteria Purchase Charging and Insufficient Funds Policy says nothing about parents potentially going to court or losing their children. However, it does state that families with a student account that reaches negative $10 or more will receive “an automated call every Friday” until the remaining balance is paid. 

After being identified by WNEP as the person who penned the letter, Joseph Muth told the news station that it was a “last resort” effort to deal with the roughly $22,000 in debt that the district had accumulated. 

Joseph Mazur, the president of the district’s board of education, told NPR that the district had tried contacting parents by mail, email, robocalls, and personal calls, before the notice, but nothing worked. 

Mazur then defended the letter saying: “I think you have to pay your bills. I mean, I’ve been paying my bills all my life. So has everybody else. I mean sometimes you have to do without something for yourself if you want to raise your kids and see that they’re taken care of.”

“We are in the process of trying to save money wherever we can. We have laid off some employees. We have reduced some of our curriculum. And we’re looking anywhere we can save,” Mazur said. “I don’t care if it’s $1,000 or $20,000.”

Mazur did note that all students in the district received a meal. “Every poor kid got a meal,” Mazur said. “If the Board of Directors was mean and cruel they’d just honestly say, ‘stop the lunches,’ but we didn’t.”

“Was the letter a little strong? Maybe yes,” Mazur added. “But it did work, because they’re paid now.”

However, David Usavage, vice president of the school board, told the Times on Saturday that he received about six phone calls complaining about the letter. He also added that when he first read the notice, he thought it was a “joke.”

The letter “was not approved by anyone,” Usavage said. “We have a policy that says everything should go through the superintendent.”

It is not uncommon for the district to mail letters to parents, asking them to pay debts, but the language has always been “softer,” he said.

Usavage explained that the notice was written by Muth and the district’s lawyer, Charles R Coslett. Usavage said Muth has since apologized over the notice, but did not release any information about potential consequences for the two. 

Usavage also provided the Times with more information about the district’s debt, saying that the district, which is made up of seven different schools, serves school meals that cost between $1 to $2.70 to about 5,000 children.

“We have never denied anyone because they don’t have money,” he said. “We would never, ever allow a child to go hungry.”

However, Usavage said that 960 students had accumulated a debt of five cents up to $9.99. Parents of 40 children owed $10 or more and parents of four students owed more than $440. 

For now, Usavage said he would call a special meeting with the school board to discuss the issue, but said future letters will be less threatening.

“I don’t want the people who live in the Wyoming Valley West School District to think we are so classless as to send out a letter threatening parents,” he said. “I can assure you we will not take one child or one parent to any kind of court to get back the money.”

For the coming school year, the district will qualify for funding to provide free lunches to all students. regardless of their family’s financial need. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (NPR)

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Conservatives Slam Elmo For Getting Vaccinated Against COVID-19 

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While critics accused the muppet of promoting propaganda, CDC data shows the shots are safe and effective.


Elmo Gets Vaccinated 

Conservative politicians expressed outrage on Twitter after the beloved “Sesame Street” character Elmo revealed he got vaccinated against COVID-19 on Tuesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently cleared the way for children between the ages of six months and five years to get vaccinated against the virus. The famous red muppet is three years old, making him finally eligible for the jab. 

In a video shared by “Sesame Street,” Elmo said that he felt “a little pinch, but it was okay.” 

Elmo’s father, Louie, then addressed parents who might be apprehensive about vaccinating their own kids. 

“I had a lot of questions about Elmo getting the COVID vaccine,” he said to the camera. “Was it safe? Was it the right decision? I talked to our pediatrician so I could make the right choice.” 

“I learned that Elmo getting vaccinated is the best way to keep himself, our friends, neighbors, and everyone else healthy and enjoying the things they love,” he continued. 

Republicans Criticize “Sesame Street”

While some praised the video for raising awareness and addressing the concerns parents may have, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx) quickly lambasted the effort.

“Thanks, Sesame Street for saying parents are allowed to have questions,” Cruz tweeted. “You then have Elmo aggressively advocate for vaccinating children UNDER 5. But you cite ZERO scientific evidence for this.”

Despite Cruz’s claim, the CDC has provided ample resources with information on vaccines for children. 

He was not alone in criticizing the video. Harmeet Dhillon, a committeewoman of the Republican National Committee for California, suggested that Elmo would be taking puberty blockers next. 

Other anti-vaxxers claimed Elmo would get myocarditis and accused “Sesame Street” of promoting propaganda.

COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be both safe and effective against transmission of the virus, but this is not the first time conservatives have turned their anger against a friendly-looking muppet who opted to get the jab. When Big Bird got vaccinated in November, Cruz and other right-wing figures accused the show of brainwashing kids.

Big Bird’s choice to get vaccinated was not a shocker though, clips dating back to 1972 show him getting immunized against the measles. 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Hill) (Market Watch)

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Uvalde Puts Police Chief on Leave, Tries to Kick Him Off City Council

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If Pete Arredondo fails to attend two more consecutive city council meetings, then he may be voted out of office.


Police Chief Faces Public Fury

Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo was placed on administrative leave Wednesday following revelations that he and his officers did not engage the shooter at Robb Elementary for over an hour despite having adequate weaponry and protection.

Superintendent Hal Harrell, who made the announcement, did not specify whether the leave is paid or unpaid.

Harrell said in a statement that the school district would have waited for an investigation to conclude before making any personnel decisions, but chose to order the administrative leave because it is uncertain how long the investigation will take.

Lieutenant Mike Hernandez, the second in command at the police department, will assume Arredondo’s duties.

In an interview with The Texas Tribune earlier this month, Arredondo said he did not consider himself in charge during the shooting, but law enforcement records reviewed by the outlet indicate that he gave orders at the scene.

Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told state senators on Tuesday that some officers wanted to enter the classrooms harboring the shooter but were stopped by their superiors.

He said officer Ruben Ruiz tried to move forward into the hallway after receiving a call from his wife Eva Mireles, a teacher inside one of the classrooms, telling him she had been shot and was bleeding to death.

Ruiz was detained, had his gun taken away, and was escorted off the scene, according to McCraw. Mireles later died of her wounds.

Calls for Arredondo to resign or be fired have persisted.

Emotions Erupt at City Council

Wednesday’s announcement came one day after the Uvalde City Council held a special meeting in which community members and relatives of victims voiced their anger and demanded accountability.

“Who are you protecting?” Asked Jasmine Cazares, sister of Jackie Cazares, a nine-year-old student who was shot. “Not my sister. The parents? No. You’re too busy putting them in handcuffs.”

Much of the anger was directed toward Arredondo, who was not present at the meeting but was elected to the city council on May 7, just over two weeks before the massacre.

“We are having to beg ya’ll to do something to get this man out of our faces,” said the grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza, a 10-year-old victim. “We can’t see that gunman. That gunman got off easy. We can’t take our frustrations out on that gunman. He’s dead. He’s gone. … Ya’ll need to put yourselves in our shoes, and don’t say that none of ya’ll have, because I guarantee you if any of ya’ll were in our shoes, ya’ll would have been pulling every string that ya’ll have to get this man off the council.”

One woman demanded the council refuse to grant Arredondo the leave of absence he had requested, pointing out that if he fails to attend three consecutive meetings the council can vote him out for abandoning his office.

“What you can do right now is not give him, if he requests it, a leave of absence,” she said. “Don’t give him an out. We don’t want him. We want him out.”

After hearing from the residents, the council voted unanimously not to approve the leave of absence.

On Tuesday, Uvalde’s mayor announced that Robb Elementary is set to be demolished, saying no students or teachers should have to return to it after what happened.

We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.

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Texas Public Safety Director Says Police Response to Uvalde Shooting Was An “Abject Failure”

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New footage shows officers prepared to engage the shooter one hour before they entered the classroom.


Seventy-Seven Deadly Minutes

Nearly a month after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers, evidence has emerged indicating that police were prepared to engage the shooter within minutes of arriving, but chose to wait over an hour.

The shooting at Robb Elementary began at 11:33 a.m., and within three minutes 11 officers are believed to have entered the school, according to surveillance and body camera footage obtained by KVUE and the Austin American Statesman.

District Police Chief Pete Arredondo reportedly called a landline at the police department at 11:40 a.m. for help.

“It’s an emergency right now,” he said. “We have him in the room. He’s got an AR-15. He’s shot a lot… They need to be outside the building prepared because we don’t have firepower right now. It’s all pistols.”

At 11:52 a.m., however, the footage shows multiple officers inside the school armed with at least two rifles and one ballistic shield.

Law enforcement did not enter the adjoined classrooms to engage the shooter until almost an hour later, at 12:50 p.m. During that time, one officer’s daughter was inside the classrooms and another’s wife, a teacher, reportedly called him to say she was bleeding to death.

Thirty minutes before law enforcement entered the classrooms, the footage shows officers had four ballistic shields in the hallway.

Frustrated Cops Want to Go Inside

Some of the officers felt agitated because they were not allowed to enter the classrooms.

One special agent at the Texas Department of Public Safety arrived about 20 minutes after the shooting started, then immediately asked, “Are there still kids in the classrooms?”

“It is unknown at this time,” another officer replied.

“Ya’ll don’t know if there’s kids in there?” The agent shot back. “If there’s kids in there we need to go in there.”

“Whoever is in charge will determine that,” the other officer responded.

According to an earlier account by Arredondo, he and the other officers tried to open the doors to the classrooms, but found them both locked and waited for a master key to arrive. But surveillance footage suggests that they never tried to open the doors, which a top Texas official has confirmed were never actually locked.

One officer has told reporters that within minutes of the police response, there was a Halligan bar, which firefighters use to break down locked doors, on-site, but it was never used.

At a special State Senate committee hearing Monday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw called the police response an “abject failure” and “antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.”

“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from (entering rooms) 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children,” he said. “The officers have weapons, the children had none.”

We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.

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