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Salt Lake City parents fume: What were school lunch workers thinking?

As thousands of parents fume online, Utah school officials put a cafeteria manager and supervisor of a Salt Lake City elementary school on leave after the lunch food trays of 40 children were taken away and thrown out because there was no money in the students' lunch accounts. 

The announcement, posted on the Salt Lake City School District's Facebook page on Friday morning, came after officials issued a public apology on the same social media forum. 

"This situation could have and should have been handled in a different manner. We apologize," the district stated on its Facebook page.

School officials also explained on their page why the lunches were seized in the first place:

School food service managers had called parents on Monday and Tuesday to inform them of negative balances on their kids' accounts.

"When lunch time came [on Tuesday], students who still had negative balances were told they could not have a full meal but were given a piece of fruit and milk for lunch," officials wrote.  "The district does this so children who don't have money for lunch can at least have some food and not go without."

Children are served lunch before they get to the computer for payment, which is why those who didn't have enough money in their accounts had their normal food trays taken from them.

Lunches for elementary school students are $2, according to Salt Lake City School District's website.

But the statement did not appease many people -- nearly 7,000 had commented on the school's Facebook page -- and few seemed satisfied with the explanation.

"Is this what America has become??? Money is much more important than feeding children?" one commenter wrote.

Others demanded repercussions:

"I believe someone needs to be fired. This is not acceptable and that person does not need to be in any position that this could happen," another commenter said.

"These were the actions of a bully," another woman wrote. "Taking food away from children or adults and throwing it in the garbage is not only a waste of food and money, it is mean and stupid. ...

"I join the many voices outraged by this event. Children should never be deprived of food for any reason and should never be humiliated by people in authority. This was an unconscionable act and deserves swift and harsh response to prevent it EVER happening again."

In the apology, the district seemed to expect such feedback.

"We understand the feelings of upset parents and students who say this was an embarrassing and humiliating situation," the district wrote in the apology. "We again apologize and commit to working with parents in rectifying this situation and to ensuring students are never treated in this manner again."

School officials said once the investigation is complete, they will post another update "for all concerned" on Facebook.

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saba.hamedy@latimes.com

Twitter: @saba_h

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