NOEL KING, HOST:
Earlier this week, we brought you the story of a public school district in northeastern Pennsylvania that threatened to put kids in foster care if their parents didn't settle their unpaid lunch debts. Since then, a handful of donors have stepped up and said they will pay for the kids, but the school district doesn't seem interested.
NPR's Bobby Allyn has the story.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: The letter from the Wyoming Valley West School District said if cafeteria dues are not paid, officials could take parents to court for neglecting their children. In all, parents owed $22,000. NPR has learned that a prominent media figure reached out to the school district offering to clear the debt, but has gotten no response.
Luzerne County manager Dave Pedri says this person was not the only one.
DAVE PEDRI: Today, I received five offers from various members of the community, as well as people from other states, who have offered to pay either a portion or all of the Wyoming Valley West school debt.
ALLYN: Among those offering was Todd Carmichael, the chief executive of coffee shop company La Colombe. Carmichael says he grew up poor, and he was raised by a single mom.
TODD CARMICHAEL: And I know what it's like to be shamed at school. And I know how my mother would react if someone threatened to take her children away.
ALLYN: So then Carmichael contacted the school.
CARMICHAEL: And no, we were rejected.
ALLYN: Carmichael was taken aback.
CARMICHAEL: And I'm just completely mystified by it. I'm still picking through the pieces, saying, you know, what is this?
ALLYN: State records show that the school district is one of the poorest in Pennsylvania, as measured by per-pupil spending. So why is the district not interested in donations? Carmichael has a theory.
CARMICHAEL: This really isn't about the money. I think it's about teaching people who are struggling some sort of moral lesson that they need to learn, no matter what the consequences are.
ALLYN: NPR has had no response from the district to its requests for comment. Pedri with the county says he has asked officials to stop the foster care threat, and they agreed.
Bobby Allyn, NPR News.
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