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Two workers on paid leave after lunch taken away from elementary students

Published: Friday, July 31 2015 10:25 p.m. MDT

The Uintah Elementary School cafeteria manager and her supervisor have been placed on paid leave after dozens of students had their lunch taken away and were told they didn't have money to pay for their lunch.  They were given fruit and milk instead. (Steve Landeen, Deseret News) The Uintah Elementary School cafeteria manager and her supervisor have been placed on paid leave after dozens of students had their lunch taken away and were told they didn't have money to pay for their lunch. They were given fruit and milk instead. (Steve Landeen, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah cafeteria manager and her supervisor have been placed on leave during an investigation into why lunches were taken from students who owed money on food accounts.

Salt Lake City School District spokesman Jason Olsen said Friday the Uintah Elementary School cafeteria manager and her supervisor have been placed on paid leave while the investigation continues.

On Tuesday, dozens of students went through the lunch line with trays, and many did not make it past the cashier. The food was thrown out, and the kids were given fruit and a milk instead.

Erica Lukes' daughter, Sophia Isom, had her lunch thrown away, even though Lukes said the account was paid. The kids and teachers were upset.

“We had teachers that were digging into their own pocketbooks to pay for lunches while this district person was there,” she said.

Lukes said she believes the two people on paid leave are being used as scapegoats and the district isn’t taking responsibility for its actions.

“They've basically said that they might have made a mistake. Oh, they probably did make a mistake. They did make a mistake, and they need to say that. They need to make changes, and they need to quit blaming people that were not responsible for their actions,” she said.

According to Olsen, a district employee came to the school Monday to look into the school's claim of unpaid account balances, which Olsen said involved between 50 and 70 of the school's 550 students. School officials tried to call parents Monday and Tuesday, Olsen said, but several parents said they were not notified.

The district apologized Wednesday.

District policy mandates that schools work with parents on unpaid balances, which would include giving them "as much notice as possible," Olsen said. "There shouldn't have been food taken away."

The district's investigation will try to determine whether its online lunch payment automatic debit system was working correctly, Olsen said. A possible glitch in the system may explain why so many parents were unaware of their low account balance.

Contributing: Richard Piatt

Email: vvo-duc@deseretnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company