Two employees placed on paid administrative leave after Uintah Elementary school lunch debacle

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Utah) - An investigation has begun into why dozens of Uintah Elementary students had their lunches taken from them and thrown away. Friday the Salt Lake City School District announced several employees have now been placed on paid administrative leave.

It’s still not clear who made the call to take food away from dozens of students who had deficit balances on their lunch cards.

District spokesperson Jason Olsen told ABC 4 Utah, "For some reason, this is what we're trying to figure out where we felt things went extremely wrong, those trays were taken from those students and those students were given a partial lunch a piece of fruit and a milk."

The district does say a member of the district's child nutrition department went to the school Monday because there were such a high number of students with negative or low balances. On Monday there were as many as 50 to 70 students with deficit balances, on Tuesday that number was just over 30. The district says notifications were supposed to be made to parents, but it's not clear if or how that was done.

"We do have an ongoing investigation,” said Olsen. “We're covering everything we can think of why this happened; who's directly involved what notification was given to parents because many of them are saying these low balances have been a surprise to us."

The cafeteria manager at the school, and her supervisor from the district, have now both been placed on administrative leave while the district investigates the matter. In the meantime the State Office of Education is now stepping in to help.

The State Office of Education Spokesperson Mark Peterson told ABC 4 Utah, “The state superintendent met with the governor yesterday we agreed that what we need to do is move forward and come up with a model plan for how to deal with school children who have deficit lunch accounts so that this sort of thing doesn't happen again."

Once that model is drafted it's only a suggestion; districts don't necessarily have to adopt it. Currently the Salt Lake School District's policy is to find out before the student gets in line if he or she has a low balance, but clearly that wasn't followed this week.

Olsen said, "What happened on Tuesday should have never happened. If those students had gone through the line they had been served food they should keep that food."

Whether it was employee error, a procedural issue or an error with the electronic notification system, the district says it's getting to the bottom of it to ensure no child will ever have their lunch taken away again.  

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