6-year old booted from school lunch program

BRIGHTON, Colo. - A Brighton mom says she was appalled when she received a letter from the director of Brighton Leadership Academy telling her that her daughter, Isabella, is no longer eligible to receive school lunch.

The letter, dated March 4, 2015, states: Your child has exceeded the amount of absences per the Attendance Agreement, and no further lunch's (sic) will be provided for your child for the rest of this school year.  Please provide a lunch for your child effective this day.

The letter was signed by Jaime Vega, the school's director, and pastor of Fearless Brighton, formerly Access Church of Brighton at the same location.

When Michelle Hernandez got the letter, she thought, "Oh no, I've got to do something about this. They can't deny at-risk youth their lunches."

Hernandez said the letter was a vindictive reaction to her refusal to go to the school to talk to talk about her daughter's lengthy absence.

"She had the flu," Hernandez told 7NEWS.  "She had a doctor's note."

The frustrated mom said the manager of the school, Kimberly Vega, became irate when Hernandez asked to have the conversation on the phone because she didn't have transportation to get to the school.

"She started yelling at me," Hernandez said, "so I hung up."

She said later that day, her daughter came home with the note, signed by Vega's husband, Jaime, the director of the school.

Jaime didn't return a phone call, so 7NEWS contacted HOPE Online Learning Academy Co-Op. 

HOPE's Communications Manager, Amanda Kalina, said HOPE is a non-profit charter school and that Brighton Leadership is an independent non-profit learning center that operates under contract from HOPE.

Kalina told 7NEWS that Vega's letter "was not authorized."

In an email, Kalina also said, "HOPE Online Learning Academy Co-Op offers a universal free lunch program to our 3,000 students across the state, including at Brighton Leadership Academy.  Our students are never denied lunch."

The email said "There has definitely been a misunderstanding in this situation, which we are addressing with further training for our staff.  We have been working closely with this family to rectify the situation and find ways to further support them."

Hernandez said she doubts her daughter is the only one targeted by Jaime and Kimberly Vega.

She said parents have to sign a lunch agreement which ties their child's meal to attendance and limits the number of days they can be absent.

"I was just so sad to think how many kids that are going there are getting denied lunch," she said.

When asked if "unauthorized" letters went out to other parents, and if so, how many students may have gone without meals as a result, Kalina replied, "We are in the process of investigating this matter."

Hernandez said many kids at the school have immigrant parents who may not be as outspoken as she is.

"If they get a letter like that," she said, "they're not going to rock the boat.  They're not going to do anything, so they're going to have to find other ways to feed their children."

Hernandez said her daughter is now back in school and that she has been assured that Isabella will be able to eat lunch at school.


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