Salt Lake City school district spokesman Jason Olsen apologized to students and their parents after 32 elementary school children had their lunches taken away because they owed money to the cafeteria on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.
The lunches cost about two dollars each and were given to the students by the cafeteria workers at Uintah Elementary who were unaware the students would have them taken and thrown away at the registers due to unpaid lunch fees, according to Olsen, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
If the student arrived at the pay station with the food and their balance showed up negative, the cafeteria worker had to take away the food and throw it away because it could no longer be served to another student, Olsen said in a statement, according to the Tribune.
Olsen also told the Tribune the parents of the student with negative balances were contacted on Monday and Tuesday. He added some parents were not able to be reached before the school's child nutrition manager decided to not serve lunch to the students with debt.
Erica Lukes, mother to one of the students whose lunch was thrown away, said the entire scene was humiliating and demoralizing, the AP reported.
Olsen said students who were not able to purchase lunch were given a fruit and milk and that the workers were not aware of what students owed until they reached the pay station, according to the AP.
"She took my lunch away and said, 'Go get a milk,'" fifth-grader Sophia Isom told KSL.com. "I came back and asked, 'What's going on?' Then she handed me an orange. She said, 'You don't have any money in your account so you can't get lunch.'"
Olsen said the incident was a mistake and officials are currently further investigating the issue, the AP reported.