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Pay or Lose Your Child

January 15, 2009 permalink

When California fourth-grader Paul Behill fell $7.30 behind in paying his lunch bill, the school sent his mother Kelly Behill a written demand to pay or get reported to Child Protective Services. Superintendent Richard Stotler followed the tradition of saying in public exactly the opposite of actions in private. He said he would never refer a parent to Child Protective Services just for non-payment of school lunch bill.

So which box on the form do social workers check in this case? Financial neglect? Best interest of the school? The one word "bully" is all they need.



Parent threatened by school district over $7.30 school lunch bill

Kelly Behill
Kelly Behill

Story Updated: Jan 14, 2009 at 6:21 PM PST, By Jose Gaspar, Eyewitness News

Paul Behill is a fourth grade student at Beardsley Intermediate School who is on the free and reduced school lunch program, which serves economically disadvantaged students.

His mother says her son became so uncomfortable after being questioned by cafeteria workers about his unpaid lunch bill.

"He even came to me and said, 'Well, I don't want to go to lunch, I'll just skip lunch.' He didn't want the other kids knowing that we owed money," said Paul's mother, Kelly Behill.

But the real shocker was when Kelly received a letter from Beardsley School District telling her to cough up $7.30--or risk being referred to Child Protective Services. The letter goes on to say the student's report card or diploma could be withheld or a student could be denied from participating in extra curricular activities.

"It doesn't say a whole lot for how the district cares about its students," said Kelly Behill.

The district defends its action. Beardsley Superintendent Richard Stotler tells Eyewitness News state education code gives it the right to send such a letter to parents, though Stotler could not cite the specific code.

And Stotler says the district acted out of concern for the child.

"If a child is not eating, the parent is not providing food to the child," said Stotler.

But in this case, Stotler could not say if there was any indication Kelly Behill was not feeding her son. Stotler also said he would never refer a parent to Child Protective Services just for non-payment of school lunch bill.

So why include the threat if the district doesn't intend to carry it out?

"Once you cry 'wolf' like that to a parent, are they going to believe you the next time when you didn't do it this time?" asked Loretta Westmoreland of Bakersfield.

Kelly Behill has since taken her son out of the free and reduced school lunch program. Phyllis Bramson-Paul from the State Department of Education Nutrition Program says she's not sure if school districts can legally threaten to refer a parent to CPS for non-payment of a lunch bill.

Bramson-Paul says she would discourage districts from doing so.

Source: Bakersfield Now